Anorexia treatment essentials
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder with serious health repercussions. It is believed to be caused by various factors, including poor self-esteem, pressure from society, mental health issues, upbringing, genes, and more. In essence, the anorexic patient starves herself, despite whether she’s hungry or not. Though it’s been around for centuries, the disorder wasn’t recognized in modern science and published in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1952.
Approximately 20 million females and 10 million males are affected by this illness during their lifetimes, per the National Eating Disorders Association. Signs of anorexia nervosa may consist of:
- Emaciated figure
- Voluntary starvation or severe calorie restriction
- An obsession with weight loss, even when underweight
- A distorted self-image
- About 15 to 60 percent of the patient’s body weight has been lost
- Denial of weight loss as problematic
- Extreme worry about gaining weight
Anorexia nervosa most often develops during the early teenage years, but it is certainly not limited to young patients. Medical News Today reports it is the third most common chronic illness for teens. Additionally, PBS notes the disorder is more common among females, with 3 percent of women suffering from anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, as compared to only 1 percent of the male population. One of the first and most prominent signs of anorexia nervosa in females is amenorrhea — the absence of menstruation. The National Association of Anorexia and Eating Disorders states that eating disorders are also more common among athletes, noting a 20 percent prevalence among elite athletes, as compared to only 9 percent among a control group comprised of females.
The ins and outs of anorexia nervosa treatment
The primary method of caring for the anorexic patient is intensive therapy. Most patients benefit from extensive treatment that lasts several months, but there is room for flexibility when gauging the severity of a patient’s disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy has demonstrated great success in the treatment of anorexic patients. The process focuses on training your mind to think differently about the feelings and thoughts that normally trigger you to engage in anorexic behaviors.
Family-based therapy and group therapy are also fantastic options. These therapies often target the root causes of compulsions that drive patients into anorexic behaviors. Believe it or not, anorexia nervosa is rarely about the number of pounds flashing on the scale or the number of calories in a meal. Many who engage in anorexic behaviors do so in effort to feel in control of something when other aspects of their life feel chaotic.
If you’ve developed any issues as a result of your anorexia, they’ll be treated accordingly. You’ll likely see a dentist to evaluate damage to your teeth and your overall oral health, as well. Patients are always thoroughly screened for mineral deficiencies and provided a balanced diet. You’ll likely meet with a dietician or nutritionist who will properly educate you on how to feed your body in a healthy way. Medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, may be prescribed to treat comorbid conditions, but there isn’t one specific medication dedicated to treating anorexia.
We can answer your questions
For some patients, anorexia nervosa is only one issue they are battling. Co-occurring disorders were present in 45 percent of subjects in one Archives of General Psychiatry study. The most commonly seen psychiatric issue in eating disorder patients is anxiety, followed by depression. Some research points toward anxiety disorders as precursors for the development of eating disorders. The American Journal of Psychiatry published the results of a 2004 study in which nearly two-thirds of the eating disorder patients analyzed met the criteria for at least one anxiety disorder sometime during their lives. While comorbid conditions aren’t uncommon in the slightest, they still present an interesting challenge for treatment professionals. Not only must prescribed medications not interact with one another, but symptoms must also be controlled enough to inhibit one disorder from exacerbating the other.
Eating Disorders Review notes that 63.5 percent of women with either anorexia or bulimia in one study had an anxiety disorder at some point during their lives. The Huffington Post notes that about two-thirds of patients who are admitted for the treatment of an eating disorder will qualify for a diagnosis of anxiety or depression, too. Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders attests that over 70 percent of women under the age of 30 who are alcohol-dependent also have an eating disorder.
Anorexics who abuse stimulants generally do so in effort to limit food intake more easily. They won’t feel hungry, and the burst of energy from stimulants counteracts the fatigue that comes with lack of food. Stimulant drugs are dangerous for anyone to consume, but anorexics may be at increased risk due to their frequently frail state and decreased circulation. Some sufferers of anorexia nervosa also struggle with heart problems like arrhythmia as a side effect of their disorder. Stimulants can worsen this issue and bring the risk of heart attack and stroke as well.
For a lot of anorexia nervosa patients, substance abuse is an ongoing battle in their life. Most of these situations involve substances that aid in weight loss. For some, it’s as simple as popping multiple doses of over-the-counter weight loss tablets. Many will administer enemas on a regular basis and abuse diuretics and laxatives in an attempt to achieve greater weight loss. Others reach for harder substances, like amphetamines and heroin. Social Work Today claims that around half of all people with eating disorders will engage in substance abuse, compared to only 9 percent of the general population. In one study reported by Psychiatric Times, 17 percent of females diagnosed with anorexia nervosa had an alcohol use disorder at some point during their lives. Some research notes the possibility that substance abusers and eating disorder patients alike both engage in their given behaviors in an effort to self-medicate symptoms of clinical depression, though this is more common in bulimics than anorexics.
Don’t wait to get help
Since anorexia generally develops early in life, most of the issues it stems from are rooted in an individual’s childhood and adolescent years. In short, by the time you recognize that you have a problem, you’ve already waited long enough; it’s time to focus on getting well. The risks of long-term damage from anorexia nervosa multiply as time passes and it goes untreated. Without seeking help, the anorexic patient risks:
- Trouble concentrating
- A distorted perception of the body
- Tooth decay
- Trouble sleeping
- Hair loss
- Weakness, lethargy, and excessive fatigue
- Dehydration that can progress to kidney failure
- Depleted metabolism
- Brittle bones
- Slowed heart rate
- Trouble with temperature regulation
- Increase growth of fine hairs on the body
- A muscle disorder called myasthenia
- Developing a phobic fear of weight gain that further complicates treatment
For some patients, such as those with severe mental health disorders or those who are struggling to eat or put on weight, hospitalization is sometimes the best option for treatment. Even with partial day hospitalization programs, the primary objective is assisting the patient in gaining weight before release to continued outpatient care. According to the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, hospitalization rates for eating disorders have risen dramatically in the early 21st century, increasing by 119 percent between 1999 and 2006.
Every 62 minutes, at least one person dies as a result of their illness, per the Eating Disorders Coalition. This number represents more deaths from this one mental illness than deaths stemming from any other. Treatment for anorexia nervosa is quite successful when done right. Call us today to discuss your individual needs and how we can help you get healthy again
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