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Anorexia –the word conjures up images of rail-thin teenage girls suffering through an extreme effort to fit into society’s idea of the “perfect” body — at least in their mind’s eye. It could additionally be an effort to feel they have control over something in their lives.

Anorexia typically is seen as a medical and/or mental disorder relating to a fear of becoming fat and excluded or ridiculed by the individual’s peers. In essence, it is a fear of food. However, anorexia and this fear of eating regularly afflicts those suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), typically Crohn’s disease, but also Ulcerative Colitis.

Because many of those suffering from Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis often associate eating with pain, anorexia and extreme weight loss are typical sub-symptoms of the condition. A large percentage of those diagnosed with these conditions will experience this weight loss and often will appear chronically ill.

Crohn’s disease can manifest itself anywhere along the dietary tract, from the mouth to the anus, though it most frequently affects the small intestine. Ulcerative colitis, on the other hand, is an inflammation mostly confined to the colon and rectum. So Crohn’s sufferers are more likely to experience regular pain from food ingestion or mal-absorption and thus avoid food, leading to anorexia. This condition presents itself as a symptom in about half the patients with Ulcerative Colitis, with it usually relating to the experience of flare-ups.

Anorexia typically is viewed as a fear of eating food. As it manifests itself in IBD patients, however, the fear of food remains, but it is more a fear of the pain food can cause. In either case, anorexia is a condition where food is avoided and eating is strictly limited, whether consciously or unconsciously. Many IBD patients and their families, in fact, may not at first notice the changes in eating habits or appetite suppression that are learned behaviors in reaction to the pain.

Among adolescents and teens that have IBD, their condition often can lead to depression, which can exacerbate the problem and lead to anorexia. In addition, according to a recent study published by the National Institutes of Health, medication used in treating the original condition was seen to precipitate anorexia in patients. A withdrawal of the corticosteroids being used, however, led to life-threatening complications from the IBD, a lose-lose situation.

The results of the IBD-induced anorexia are the same as occur in those suffering from it because of perceived societal pressures to be thin. With the dramatic decrease in calories and nutrients accompanying the anorexic habits, the body suffers and begins to shut down. Extreme cases that are not resolved can lead to death, which can happen in as many as 20 percent of the patients.

The complications brought on by anorexia are well documented. The disease first affects the individual’s bones, limiting the development of bone mass and leading to fractures. In younger patients, this low bone mass issue can result in growth retardation, which also is related to hormone depression. The brain and nerves are affected, bringing about moodiness, forgetfulness, irritability, fainting, and general changes in the brain’s chemistry.

People suffering from anorexia also will experience brittle hair and nails, weak muscles and swollen joints, anemia, kidney stones, and even kidney failure. Menstruation will stop. The skin will bruise more easily and fine hair will grow all over the body. A person with anorexia will feel cold more easily and have a yellowish tinge.

The most dangerous and life-threatening aspect of anorexia, though, is what it does to the heart. The heart will lose muscle, growing weaker and smaller. Low blood pressure, heart palpitations, heart damage, and even heart failure are typical results of long-term anorexia.

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