Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa

By  , Expert Content
Feb 23, 2012

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Treatment of anorexia nervosa can be a challenge as most people with the disorder do not believe the fact that they have a problem. Like other eating disorders, anorexia nervosa needs an individualized and comprehensive treatment plan.

Factors that affect the types of treatments are:

  • Age of the person.
  • Living arrangement and place.
  • Duration of anorexia (how long the person has had the disorder).
  • Overall general health and medical condition including weight.
  • Other associated symptoms such as binge eating, vomiting or laxative abuse.
  • Results with previous treatments.
  • Associated psychological symptoms such as depression, problems controlling impulses, personality problems and severity of the problems.

Goals of anorexia treatment include:

  • Treatment of associated medical complications.
  • Gradual increase in weight to healthy weight (to a level that normal menstrual periods occur in a woman).
  • Normalise eating habits and pattern.
  • Remove unsuitable and unhealthy weight control behaviours.
  • Help the person adapt to changes in eating and weight.
  • Manage or treat psychological (such as low self-esteem, distorted thinking patterns etc) and family problems that caused the disorder or sustained it over time.
  • Develop long-term behavioural changes.

There are many types of treatments for anorexia. Treatment usually involves a combination of strategies. Treatment strategies for anorexia include:

  • Psychotherapy.
  • Support groups (Group and/or family therapy).
  • Medication.
  • Hospitalisation.
  • Nutrition counselling.

Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy (or talk therapy), is based on the principle that cure for a person's mental disorder lies within him and that cure with this method can be facilitated through a trustful and supportive relationship with a psychotherapist. The therapist helps the patient to recognise the cause of the problems and focuses on changing the thinking (cognitive therapy) and behaviour (behavioural therapy) of the person with an eating disorder. Treatment aims to develop a healthy attitude towards food and weight and change the approach of the person to difficult situations.

Medication: Medications such as certain anti-depressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be used to control associated anxiety and depression in a person with anorexia nervosa. Currently, there are no medications that can decrease the desire to lose weight and correct the basic disorder.

Nutrition counselling: This strategy aims to correct unhealthy eating pattern and habits by teaching the person a healthy approach to food and weight, normal eating patterns along with the importance of good nutrition and balanced diet.

Group and/or family therapy: Family support and cooperation is essential for the success of a treatment. The family members have to understand the eating disorder and recognise its signs and symptoms. Group therapy is helpful for people with eating disorders as they can find support and openly discuss their feelings and concerns with others, who have similar experiences and problems.

Hospitalisation: Hospitalisation may be needed for people with anorexia especially those who have had severe weight loss that resulted in malnutrition and other serious mental or physical health complications such as heart disorders, serious depression and risk of suicide. The doctor may give intravenous (in the vein) fluids, nasogastric tube feedings or total parenteral nutrition (TPN) as needed to correct malnutrition.



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