Anorexia Nervosa - Treatment

Treatment of anorexia nervosa is often quite complicated. The patient may have to deal with immediate problems as well as long-range ones. A variety of professional helpers may be needed. They may include psychiatrists or psychologists, dietitians, and medical specialists in other areas. Treatment is often difficult because of a patient's attitude. He or she may refuse to take the steps necessary to be cured of the disorder.

Hospital Treatment

Serious cases of anorexia nervosa may require hospital treatment. Some symptoms that may lead to hospitalization include:

  • A weight of 40 percent or more below normal, or weight loss of 30 pounds or more over a three-month period
  • Severely disturbed metabolism (body reactions by which energy is produced)
  • Severe binging and purging
  • Signs of mental disorders
  • Severe depression or risk of suicide
  • Family crisis

Hospital treatment has two objectives. First, the patient is given the opportunity to eat on a more normal schedule. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to force-feed the patient. Second, he or she is provided with group or individual counseling. The purpose of counseling is to help the patient understand the reasons for his or her disorder.

Outpatient Treatment

Patients whose health is not seriously at risk can be treated on an out-patient basis. Outpatient services are provided in a hospital or doctor's office. The patient comes in for help but then goes home after the session is over. Most outpatient services for anorexics involve counseling. The counseling can be done on an individual basis or in groups. In some cases family therapy can be helpful. Family therapy helps relatives of the anorexic to understand their role in the patient's problems.


Drugs can sometimes by used to treat the psychological aspect of anorexia nervosa. They may help patients become less depressed, less anxious, and better able to think clearly about his or her problems.

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