Teens & Eating Disorders
When Eating Disorders Go Untreated
People with anorexia are 18 times more likely to die early as compared with those of similar age in the general population.6 Anorexia can lead to cardiovascular problems, muscle wasting and weakness, osteoporosis, damage to the structure and function of the heart, brain damage and multi-organ failure.
People with bulimia may experience chronic swelling and inflammation of the throat and salivary glands, tooth decay caused by stomach acid, acid reflux and gastrointestinal issues from vomiting and laxative abuse and severe dehydration. Electrolyte imbalance caused by either too low or too high levels of sodium, calcium, potassium and other minerals may also occur.
Although challenging for physicians and parents, research does show that early intervention for eating disorders can make a difference. When they are identified and treated quickly and aggressively, patients are more likely to fully recover.
How Doctors Treat Eating Disorders
Identifying and effectively treating co-existing mental illness and eating disorders can present clinicians with a challenge. A mental health screening questionnaire taken at the primary care office can detect depression, anxiety and other mental conditions, and uncover emerging issues with food and eating.
For anorexia, the priority is to restore the patient to a healthy weight and prevent relapse. At the same time, health professionals will address the psychological issues, behaviors and thoughts that prompt the patient to restrict food intake. In some cases, patients may need to be hospitalized to treat health problems caused by malnutrition or to increase their weight if they are emaciated.
Medications have been shown to have a limited role in the treatment of anorexia. However, a novel approach known as the Maudsley Method7,8 – in which parents assume responsibility for feeding their adolescent — has shown encouraging results.
Bulimia treatment often involves a combination of options. Patients may undergo nutritional counseling and psychotherapy and may also be prescribed medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used to help change binging and purging habits and alter a patient’s attitude towards eating. Antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), may also help.
TeenScreen Webinar: Eating Disorders in Adolescents
National Institute of Mental Health
National Eating Disorders Association
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
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- Becker AE, Grinspoon SK, Klibanski A, Herzog DB. Eating disorders. New England Journal of Medicine, 1999; 340(14):1092–1098.
- Steiner H, Lock J. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in children and adolescents: a review of the past ten years. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 1998; 37:352–359.
- Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Harrison, G. P., & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry, 61(3), 348–358.
- National Institute of Mental Health. National Institutes of Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/statistics/1EAT_CHILD.shtml
- National Institute of Mental Health. National Institutes of Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/complete-index.shtml)
- Steinhausen HC. Outcomes of eating disorders. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2008; 18:225–242.
- Eisler I, Dare C, Hodes M, Russell G, Dodge E, and Le Grange D. Family therapy for adolescent anorexia nervosa: the results of a controlled comparison of two family interventions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 2000; 1:727–736.
- Lock J, Le Grange D, Agras WS, Dare C. Treatment Manual for Anorexia Nervosa: A Family-based Approach. New York: Guilford Press. 2001.