‘Looks can be deceptive'. This saying can hold true for inner bodily health as well. According to a new study by the researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine, fit-looking people can actually be dangerously ill. Anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterised by restrictive eating, over-exercising, distorted body image and intense fear of weight gain, is usually diagnosed in people weighing 85 per cent below their ideal body weight. But, a new type of eating disorder - atypical anorexia nervosa – was discovered in the year 2013 and is seen in people with all the symptoms of anorexia nervosa but have normal body weight.
The study's senior author, Neville Golden, MD, professor of paediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine said, "This group of patients is under-recognised and undertreated. Our study showed that they can be just as sick medically and psychologically as anorexia nervosa patients who are underweight." The findings of the study were published in the journal ‘Pediatrics'.
The main symptom to look out for atypical anorexia patients during diagnosis is quick and large weight loss, while their current weight could be within a normal range. The patients may also have low heart rate and blood pressure, as well as serious electrolyte imbalances and psychological problems.
The study adopted statistical modelling to discover the factors that could diagnose the illness in the best possible way. The researchers found that the amount, speed and duration of weight loss were linked with worse illness, but their body weight could not really determine it.
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Anorexia nervosa is characterised by restrictive eating, over-exercising and intense fear of weight gain.
"The bigger context is that, over the past 30 years, the prevalence of adolescent obesity has quadrupled, and teens are being told to lose weight without being given tools to do so in a healthy way," Golden said. "By the time they get to see us, they've lost a tremendous amount of weight, their vital signs are unstable and they need to be hospitalised," he added.
The researchers suggest that further studies need to be carried out to identify the ideal weight range for adolescents recovering from atypical anorexia nervosa. A balanced combination of metabolic, hormonal and psychological measures may be required to determine a healthy weight, instead of asking them to lose weight drastically.