Cutaneous manifestations in anorexia nervosa

TitleCutaneous manifestations in anorexia nervosa
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2000
AuthorsHediger, C, Rost, B, Itin, P
JournalSchweiz Med Wochenschr
KeywordsAdolescent Adult Anorexia Nervosa/*complications/pathology Child Female HIV Infections/complications Humans Skin/pathology Skin Diseases/classification/*etiology

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder among adolescent girls and young women which, though common, often goes undetected and untreated. Anorexia nervosa is a response for young people with psychological conflicts who try to win love by having a body corresponding to the present-day image, symbolising strength, beauty, attraction, power and success. Anorexia nervosa involves inadequate calorie intake leading to marked cachexia with metabolic and endocrinological disturbances. We investigated dermatological changes in 21 young female anorectics aged 19-24 in an attempt to find dermatological markers which mirror the dynamics of the disease and thus obtain helpful signs for early diagnosis with its important bearing on the outcome. Extensive histories were taken and whole-body examinations performed. Seven sex- and age-matched persons served as a control group. The most common dermatological findings were xerosis (71%, controls 29%), cheilitis (76%), bodily hypertrichosis (62%), alopecia (24%), dry scalp hair (48%), acral coldness (38%), acrocyanosis (33%), periungual erythema (48%), gingival changes (37%), nail changes (29%) and calluses on dorsum of hand due to self-induced vomiting (67%). Our study documented for the first time that a body mass index of < or = 16 (kg/m2) can be considered a critical value at which skin changes are more frequent. There are remarkable similarities between cutaneous manifestations in anorexia nervosa and in HIV infection. Patients with anorexia nervosa develop early stereotype skin changes which are cardinal diagnostic symptoms and pointers to the diagnosis of eating disorders. During training at the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in Solothurn one of us (C. H.) was once more able to observe most of the above-described cutaneous and mucocutaneous changes in anorexic adolescents. This paper is intended to stimulate further basic research on this topic. We hope our study will facilitate early diagnosis of anorexia nervosa by the family physician and enable him or her to institute immediate treatment for the eating disorder and thereby improve the prognosis.