Difference Between Anorexia and Anorexia Nervosa

The key difference between Anorexia and Anorexia Nervosa is that anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight by refusing to eat. It is a well-recognized disease entity usually categorized under psychiatric disorders. Anorexia, on the other hand, simply refers to the loss of appetite or no desire to eat that can occur due to many different factors and not necessarily by a disease condition.

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by very low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin, and deliberate food restriction. People with anorexia nervosa perceive themselves as overweight even though they are underweight. They usually deny that they have a problem with low weight. They weigh themselves frequently, eat only a small amount of food, and only eat certain foods and tend to skip meals. Some people with this disorder will exercise excessively, force themselves to vomit, or sometimes use laxatives to produce weight loss.

The exact cause of this disorder is not known, and both genetic and environmental factor may have contributed to the occurrence of it.  Anorexia nervosa is not a common disorder however it is often underdiagnosed. Diagnosis of this disease is important as it is treatable and curable. 

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia, as said before, simply refers to the loss of appetite or no desire to eat. It can occur due to many different factors and not necessarily by a disease condition. Anorexia is not associated to a particular age group, gender, or with specific socioeconomic background.

What is the difference between Anorexia and Anorexia Nervosa?

Age group

Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia Nervosa occurs in young population around post puberty.

Anorexia: Anorexia does not have an age group preference.

Gender specificity

Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia Nervosa usually occurs among females

Anorexia: Anorexia does not have a gender preference.

Social factors

Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia Nervosa tends to occur among people with a better socioeconomic background and especially seen among modelers and celebrities.

Anorexia: Anorexia does not have such preference and tends to occur among all.

Signs and Symptoms

Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia Nervosa has a well-defined set of symptoms and signs. However, all symptoms and signs may not be present in a single patient.


  • Refusal to maintain a normal body mass index specific for the age
  • Amenorrhea or causes menses to stop
  • Fearful of even the slightest weight gain
  • Obvious, rapid, dramatic weight loss
  • Lanugo: soft, fine hair growing on the face and body
  • Obsession with calories and fat content of food
  • Preoccupation with food, recipes, or cooking; may cook elaborate dinners for others, but not eat the food themselves
  • Remarkable food restriction despite being underweight
  • Abnormal food rituals, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, refusing to eat around others, hiding or discarding food
  • May use laxatives, diet pills, ipecac syrup, or water pills; may engage in self-induced vomiting; may run to the bathroom after eating, in order to vomit and quickly get rid of ingested calories
  • Excessive exercise
  • Intolerance to cold and frequent complaint about being cold; body temperature may lower (hypothermia) in an effort to conserve energy
  • Hypotension or reduced blood pressure
  • Change in the heart rate
  • Depression
  • Social withdrawal and secretive
  • Abdominal distension
  • Dry hair and skin, as well as hair thinning
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Rapid mood swings

Anorexia: Anorexia may or may not be a symptom of many disease conditions. If the anorexia is persistent or associated with other symptoms, it needs to be investigated for hidden disease conditions such as infections and cancers. However, in majority of the cases, anorexia is due to benign or non-harmful conditions. Anoxia is also a common side effect due to many medications.


Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia Nervosa can lead to osteoporosis, infertility, depression, and heart diseases.

Anorexia: Anorexia if persisting for long periods, it can lead to malnutrition.


Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia Nervosa needs special investigations to detect complications.

Anorexia: Anorexia, if self-limiting, does not require any investigation; however, if persistent, may need investigations to detect the underlying diseases.


Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia Nervosa needs special treatment including dietary therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and drug therapy.

Anorexia: Anorexia, if self-limiting, does not require any treatment.

Follow up

Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia Nervosa needs proper follow-up during the treatment.

Anorexia: Simple anorexia does not require any follow-up.

Image Courtesy:

Office of Women’s Health, Anorexia Nervosa Fact Sheet, viewed on 14 July 2015