Anorexia Nervosa - Treatments

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What is the treatment for anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia may be treated in an outpatient setting, or hospitalization may be necessary. For an individual with severe weight loss that has impaired organ function, hospital treatment must initially focus on correction of malnutrition, and intravenous feeding or tube feeding that goes past the mouth may be required. A gain of between 1 to 3 pounds per week is a safe and attainable goal when malnutrition must be corrected. Sometimes weight gain is achieved using schedules for eating, decreased physical activity, and increased social activity, either on an inpatient or outpatient basis. For individuals who have suffered from anorexia for several years, the goals of treatment may need to be achieved more slowly in order to prevent the anorexia sufferer from relapsing as a result of being overwhelmed by treatment.

The overall treatment of anorexia, however, must focus on more than weight gain. There are a variety of treatment approaches dependent upon the resources available to the individual. Because of increasing insurance restrictions, many patients find that a short hospitalization followed by participation in a day treatment program is an effective alternative to longer inpatient programs. Most individuals, however, initially seek outpatient treatment involving psychological as well as medical intervention. It is common to engage a multidisciplinary treatment team consisting of a medical care professional, a dietician or nutritionist, and a mental health care professional.

Different kinds of psychological therapy have been employed to treat people with anorexia. Individual therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, group therapy, and family therapy have all been successful in the treatment of anorexia. In adolescents, research shows that the Maudsley model of family therapy can be particularly effective in treating this disorder in this population. In contrast to many past approaches to treatment, the Maudsley model approaches the family of the individual with anorexia as part of the solution rather than part of the reason their loved one has the disorder. With ongoing specific guidance from the professional mental health team, this approach has the family actively help their loved one eat in a more healthy manner.

Any appropriate treatment approach addresses underlying issues of control, perfectionism, and self-perception. Family dynamics are explored. Nutritional education provides a healthy alternative to weight management for the patient. Group counseling or support groups may assist the individual in the recovery process. The ultimate goal of treatment should be for the individual to accept herself/himself and lead a physically and emotionally healthy life.

While no medications have been identified that can definitively reduce the compulsion to starve oneself, olanzapine (Zyprexa, Zydis), risperidone (Risperdal), and quetiapine (Seroquel) are medications that are also used as mood stabilizers and to treat schizophrenia that may be useful in treating anorexia. These medications may also help increase weight and to manage some of the emotional symptoms like anxiety and depression that can accompany anorexia. Some of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant drugs, like fluoxetine (Prozac), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Paxil), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro), have been shown to be helpful in weight maintenance after weight has been gained, as well as having beneficial effects on the mood and anxiety symptoms that may be associated with the condition.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: amy, 19-24 Female Published: October 18

I'm so scared because for the past 3 months I have extremely obsessed about my weight. I'm 24 years old 5'6 and 145lbs and I have never felt this way before. I weigh myself a lot and I'm always watching what I eat, I eat a lot less now. I'm embarrassed to tell my husband about this, I just want to be skinny so bad, what can I do, I don't want to be anorexic but I want to be skinny.

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Comment from: Katie4906, 25-34 Female (Patient) Published: March 08

The biggest help for me was the love and support of my family. If you do not have family that you can tell, talk to a counselor or close friend. Also, seeing the grief and pain that I was causing my parents made me realize that I was not just hurting myself. If you are battling anorexia, please don't be afraid to talk to someone about it.

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