By Yolanda Smith, BPharm
The treatment for anorexia nervosa usually involves a multidisciplinary team of health professionals to address the various aspects of the condition. This may include a dietician, psychiatrist, psychologist, specialist nurse or counselor and a pediatrician for children or adolescent patients.
Hospitalization may be required in severe situations where the life of the individual is in danger due to complications of the condition, such as arrhythmias or electrolyte imbalances.
The vital signs can then be monitored and appropriate interventions carried out if they are required. In severe cases, feeding via a nasogastric food may help to address malnutrition and the immediate effects of insufficient dietary intake. Patients with suicidal thoughts or attempts should be admitted to the psychiatric health ward to work through related issues.
Restoring a healthy weight is the first step in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. This helps to rebuild strength in the body and make a recovery from the condition.
A nutritionist or dietician is often involved in helping patients to work out ideal weight goals and devise a dietary plan to make progressions. This often comprises of specific meal plans and energy requirements to meet healthy body weight goals.
It is important also to address problematic behaviors that are preventing patients from eating normally, such as compulsive vomiting after binge eating. In this instance, a psychologist or other health professional specialized in mental health may be able to help address underlying issues and precipitate changes in behavior.
Family-based therapy is currently the only treatment for adolescents with anorexia that is supported by scientific evidence. Many individuals in this age group can find it difficult to understand the gravity of the condition and make healthy food and lifestyle choices to support their recovery. In family-based therapy, the parents and other family members play an essential role to assist decision-making and helping the adolescent to regain weight with appropriate diet.
Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) addresses unhealthy thought and behavior pattern that developed in the past by reformulating the events, recognizing their impact on the condition and revising methods to break the unhealthy habits.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help to address abnormal eating patterns and behaviors to support healthy weight gain. Additionally, it can also help to improve body image and thoughts about self-esteem and worth.
Interpersonal therapy (IPT) explores negative issues and anxiety that is associated with relationships the individual has with other people and how these can be addressed.
Focal psychodynamic therapy (FPT) focuses on specific unresolved conflicts from the past that may be affecting current body image and dietary patterns and how these can be managed more appropriately.
Dietary and psychological treatment techniques are the mainstay in the management of anorexia nervosa. There are no medications approved specifically for the treatment of the condition, due to the lack of efficacy in helping patients to regain weight.
However, antidepressant and other psychiatric medication are often used in patients with anorexia to address mental health disorders that are associated with or cause the condition.
Barriers to Treatment
Many patients with anorexia nervosa are unwilling to undergo treatment for the condition as they do not comprehend the severity of the associated complication and may not believe treatment is required. Rather than an illness, they may view their body weight as a choice and have difficulty understanding why they should change they dietary and lifestyle habits. Some patients also have an overwhelming fear of gaining weight.
To address this issue, a trusting patient-practitioner relationship is essential. During the diagnostic process, patients should be made aware of the potential risks and any concerns they have about the treatment should be addressed. It is also important that patients have a strong support network to help them through the entire recovery process.
In some cases, non-conventional medicine may be used in the treatment of anorexia nervosa. These methods are less well studied, but may be effective for some individuals to reduce anxiety related to the condition. Alternative treatments include:
Last Updated: Mar 24, 2016