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Anorexia is the decreased sensation of appetite. While the term in non-scientific publications is often used interchangably with one of its subtypes, anorexia nervosa, there are many possible causes for a decreased appetite, some of which may be harmless while others pose significant risk for the person.
Common disorders that cause anorexia include anorexia nervosa, severe depression, cancer, dementia, AIDS, and chronic renal disease. Environmentally induced disorders, such as altitude sickness, can also trigger an acute form of anorexia.
Anorexia may also be seen in congestive heart failure, perhaps due to congestion of the liver with venous blood.
Although the presenting symptom (the one which prompts a patient to seek medical attention) in acute appendicitis is abdominal pain, the presence of anorexia is requisite to making the diagnosis.
Some medications, antidepressants for example, can have anorexia as a side effect. Most notoriously, however, chemicals that are a member of the phenethylamine family are known to have more intense anorectic properties. For this reason, many individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa seek to use these medications as a crutch. Such prescription medications include Ritalin, Adderall, and Desoxyn. In some cases, these medications are prescribed to patients prior to undergoing an operation requiring general anesthesia. This is a prophylactic measure taken to ensure no food will back up into the esophagus and cause the patient to stop breathing during the procedure.
Inability to eat in the long term may lead to involuntary weight loss, may contribute to cachexia (wasting) and to malnutrition.