The most life-threatening of all psychiatric disorders is anorexia nervosa, affecting about one percent of Americans. The eating disorder typically emerges in adolescence and is characterized by low body-mass index and an intense fear of weight gain. Anorexia damages the heart, sometimes fatally, and can injure the brain and other organs, weaken bones and muscles, impair fertility, and increase the likelihood of suicide or substance abuse, especially in those who engage in eating binges followed by purging behaviors. While the disorder is difficult to treat and may recur over decades, recovery is achievable.
TCCI®-affiliated neuroscientist Cindy Hagan at Caltech is searching for detectable differences in brain structure and function that could help doctors identify early warning signs of the disorder, and help patients sustain or regain health.