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How to Treat Anorexia Nervosa


Anorexia nervosa, commonly referred to as anorexia, is a serious life-threatening eating disorder that causes people to have the perception that they are overweight when, in fact, they are extremely underweight.

Long-term effects of anorexia can include osteoporosis, brittle hair and nails, muscle wasting and weakness, heart damage and even death. Despite these potential negative outcomes, some people with anorexia can be successfully treated and return to a healthy weight.

Signs of Anorexia

People who suffer from anorexia look extremely thin and emaciated. While being severely underweight, people with anorexia still pursue losing more weight and are unwilling to maintain a healthy weight. Some people with anorexia may engage in extreme dieting, binge eating followed by purging, and excessive exercise to maintain their low weight. Others may abuse or misuse laxatives, enemas or diuretic medications.

Anorexia Treatment

There are three main goals for anorexia treatment. The first goal is to restore the sufferer to healthy weight. Goal number two is to work on treating the underlying psychological issues behind why the sufferer became anorexic in the first place. Finally, it is important to work on reducing or eliminating the behaviors or negative thought patterns that led to the anorexia so that these behaviors and thoughts start over.

The treatment pathway for anorexia typically contains one or more of the following: immediate medical attention and care, psychotherapy, nutrition counseling, medication and ongoing medical monitoring.

  • Immediate medical care: Some people develop such severe anorexia, they are initially hospitalized to treat medical issues that have developed because of extreme malnutrition. Additionally, hospitalization allows patients to be monitored to ensure they are taking in enough calories on a daily basis.
  • Psychotherapy and nutrition counseling: This can be on a one-on-one basis with a psychologist, in a group setting with other anorexia suffers, or with family members.
  • Medication: Research has demonstrated that the use of medications like antidepressants, antipsychotics or mood stabilizers may be somewhat effective in treating anorexia.
  • Ongoing monitoring: Periodic medical check-ups to ensure weight is maintained and monitoring of any health-related complications that may have come about from the anorexia.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health