Anorexia nervosa medical therapy

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Anorexia nervosa Microchapters


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Historical Perspective




Differentiating Anorexia Nervosa from other Diseases

Epidemiology and Demographics

Risk Factors


Natural History, Complications and Prognosis


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Case #1

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Medical Therapy

The first line treatment for anorexia is usually focused on immediate weight gain, especially with those who have particularly serious conditions that require hospitalization. In particularly serious cases, this may be done as an involuntary hospital treatment under mental health law, where such legislation exists. In the majority of cases, however, people with anorexia are treated as outpatients, with input from physicians, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and other mental health professionals.

A recent clinical review has suggested that psychotherapy is an effective form of treatment and can lead to restoration of weight, return of menses among female patients, and improved psychological and social functioning when compared to simple support or education programmes.[1] However, this review also noted that there are only a small number of randomised controlled trials on which to base this recommendation, and no specific type of psychotherapy seems to show any overall advantage when compared to other types. Family therapy has also been found to be an effective treatment for adolescents with anorexia[2] and in particular, a method developed at the Maudsley Hospital is widely used and found to maintain improvement over time.[3]

It is important to note that many recovering underweight people often harbour a hateful dislike for those who they feel to be robbing them of their treasured emaciation. Often when well-meaning friends or relatives compliment the recoveree on how much healthier they look, the recoveree's mind replaces "healthy" with "fat".

Drug treatments, such as SSRI or other antidepressant medication, have not been found to be generally effective for either treating anorexia,[4] or preventing relapse[5] although it has also been noted that there is a lack of adequate research in this area. It is common, however, for antidepressants to be prescribed, often with the intent of trying to treat the associated anxiety and depression.

Supplementation with 14mg/day of zinc is recommended as routine treatment for anorexia nervosa due to a study showing a doubling of weight regain after treatment with zinc was begun. The mechanism of action is hypothesized to be an increased effectiveness of neurotransmission in various parts of the brain, including the amygdala, after adequate zinc intake begins resulting in increased appetite.[6]

There are various non-profit and community groups that offer support and advice to people who have anorexia, or are the carer of someone who does. Several are listed in the links below and may provide useful information for those wanting more information or help on treatment and medical care.

2006 ACC/AHA/ESC Guidelines for Management of Patients With Ventricular Arrhythmias and the Prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death - Obesity, Dieting, and Anorexia (DO NOT EDIT) [7]

Class I
"1. Life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias in patients with obesity, anorexia, or when dieting should be treated in the same manner that such arrhythmias are treated in patients with other diseases, including ICD and pacemaker implantation as required. Patients receiving ICD implantation should be receiving chronic optimal medical therapy and have reasonable expectation of survival with a good functional status for more than 1 y. (Level of Evidence: C) "
Class III
"1. Prolonged, unbalanced, very low calorie, semistarvation diets are not recommended; they may be harmful and provoke life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias. (Level of Evidence: C)"
Class IIa
"1. Programmed weight reduction in obesity and carefully controlled re-feeding in anorexia can effectively reduce the risk of ventricular arrhythmias and SCD. (Level of Evidence: C)"


  1. Hay P, Bacaltchuk J, Claudino A, Ben-Tovim D, Yong PY. (2003) Individual psychotherapy in the outpatient treatment of adults with anorexia nervosa. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 4, CD003909. PMID 14583998.
  2. Lock J, Le Grange D. (2005) Family-based treatment of eating disorders. Int J Eat Disord, 37 Suppl, S64-7. PMID 15852323.
  3. Le Grange D. (2005) The Maudsley family-based treatment for adolescent anorexia nervosa. World Psychiatry, 4 (3), 142-6. PMID 16633532.
  4. Claudino AM, Hay P, Lima MS, Bacaltchuk J, Schmidt U, Treasure J. (2006) Antidepressants for anorexia nervosa. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 1, CD004365. PMID 16437485.
  5. Walsh BT, Kaplan AS, Attia E, Olmsted M, Parides M, Carter JC, Pike KM, Devlin MJ, Woodside B, Roberto CA, Rockert W. (2006) Fluoxetine after weight restoration in anorexia nervosa: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 295(22), 2605-12. PMID 16772623.
  6. Birmingham CL, Gritzner S (2006) How does zinc supplementation benefit anorexia nervosa? Eating and Weight Disorders, 11 (4), e109-111. PMID 17272939
  7. Zipes DP, Camm AJ, Borggrefe M, Buxton AE, Chaitman B, Fromer M; et al. (2006). "ACC/AHA/ESC 2006 Guidelines for Management of Patients With Ventricular Arrhythmias and the Prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force and the European Society of Cardiology Committee for Practice Guidelines (writing committee to develop Guidelines for Management of Patients With Ventricular Arrhythmias and the Prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death): developed in collaboration with the European Heart Rhythm Association and the Heart Rhythm Society". Circulation. 114 (10): e385–484. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.178233. PMID 16935995.

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