Anorexia; Bulimia; Binge eating
Treatment goals for patients with anorexia require a team approach. Doctors should immediately check and treat any medical problems related to the condition, such as bone loss, imbalances in important electrolytes, and any hormonal deficiencies, including thyroid and reproductive hormones. Nutrition rehabilitation and psychotherapy also plays an important part in anorexia therapy.
Many moderately to severely ill anorexic patients require hospitalization when:
When severe metabolic or medical problems occur, patients with anorexia may need to be hospitalized either voluntarily or involuntarily. A variety of partial hospitalization or day care programs are also available.
Duration of Inpatient Treatment. For people with severe anorexia, many doctors believe that 10 - 12 weeks of hospitalization with full nutritional support are required to reach ideal body weight. Check to see how many days your insurance company allows for inpatient treatment. Many rarely cover more than 15 days in the hospital. It is particularly important for women with both diabetes and anorexia to achieve 100% of ideal weight before being released.
The body mass index (BMI) is the measurement of body fat. It is derived by multiplying a person's weight in pounds by 703 and then dividing it twice by the height in inches. (BMI calculators are available online.)
For example, a woman who is 5'5" and weighs 125 pounds has a healthy BMI of 21. A woman at the same height who weighs 90 pounds would have a dangerously low BMI of 15.
Nutritional intervention is essential. Weight gain is associated with fewer symptoms of anorexia and with improvements in both physical and mental function. Restoring good nutrition can help reduce bone loss, and raising the level of energy available to the body by balancing food intake and exercise can normalize hormonal function. Restoring weight is also essential before the patient can fully benefit from additional psychotherapeutic treatments.
Goals for Weight Gain and Good Nutrition. A weight-gain goal of 2 - 3 pounds a week for hospitalized patients, and 0.5 - 1 pound a week for outpatients, is strongly encouraged. Patients typically begin with a calorie count as low as 1,000 - 1,600 calories a day, which is then gradually increased to 2,000 - 3,500 calories a day. Patients may initially experience intensified anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as fluid retention, in response to weight gain. These symptoms decrease as the weight is maintained.
Tubal Feedings. Feeding tubes that pass through the nose to the stomach are not commonly used, since they may discourage a return to normal eating habits and because many patients interpret their use as punishing forced feeding. However, for patients who are at significant risk or for those who refuse to eat, tube feeding through the nose or through a tube inserted through the abdomen into the stomach can help with weight gain and improve the nutritional status of the patient. One method is to administer such feedings only at nighttime, with the patient eating normally during the day.
Intravenous Feedings. Intravenous feedings may be needed in life-threatening situations. This involves inserting a needle into the vein and infusing fluids containing nutrients directly into the bloodstream. Intravenous feedings must be administered carefully. When given at home, no more than the prescribed amount should be used. Overzealous administration of glucose solutions can trigger the so-called refeeding syndrome, in which phosphate levels drop severely and cause a condition called hypophosphatemia. Emergency symptoms include irritability, muscle weakness, bleeding from the mouth, disturbed heart rhythms, seizures, and coma.
The role of exercise in recovery is complex, since, for those with anorexia, excessive exercise is often a component of the original disorder. However, very controlled exercise regimens may be used as both a reward for developing good eating habits and as a way to reduce the stomach and intestinal distress that accompanies recovery. Exercise should not be performed if severe medical problems still exist and if the patient has not gained significant weight. The goal of exercise should be on improving physical fitness and health, not on burning off calories.
Psychologic Therapies Used in Anorexia. Family therapy is an important component of anorexia treatment, especially for children and adolescents. Adults usually begin with motivational psychotherapy that provides an empathetic setting and rewards positive efforts towards weight gain. After weight is restored, cognitive behavioral therapy techniques are helpful.
Antidepressants. Studies have not reported many benefits for treating anorexia nervosa with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the antidepressants that are often useful for patients with bulimia. A few studies suggest that these drugs could be useful for people with anorexia nervosa who also have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Doctors hoped that SSRIs could help prevent relapse in patients who have successfully restored their body weight. However, in a well-designed study there was no difference in the time to relapse between patients who received fluoxetine (Prozac) and those who received placebo.
Nutritional Supplements. Calcium and vitamin D supplements are often recommended. Some studies have reported that zinc supplements may help patients gain weight.
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