For adolescents, family based treatment is the best evidenced-based approach for anorexia nervosa. This treatment facilitate parental management of the restrictive dieting and over exercise in their child until the child is recovered enough to manage more age appropriate eating. Individual therapy is also an effective treatment, but it not as effective as family based treatment and appears to take longer for patients to restore weight. Other forms of family therapy also appear to be useful, though there are fewer studies available that demonstrate effectiveness. Treatment should always be based on a comprehensive evaluation of the adolescent and family. There are no medications known to be helpful for anorexia nervosa, but medication (usually antidepressants) may be helpful if the adolescent with anorexia is also depressed or anxious. The frequent occurrence of medical complications and the possibility of death during the course of acute and rehabilitative treatment requires your child’s doctor to be an active member of the management team. Parents play a vital supportive role in any treatment process. Hospitalization may be required for medical complications related to weight loss and malnutrition.
Possible complications of anorexia nervosa
Medical complications that may result from anorexia include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Cardiovascular (heart). While it is difficult to predict which patients with anorexia nervosa might have life-threatening heart problems that result from their illness, the majority of hospitalized patients with anorexia nervosa have been found to have low heart rates. Heart muscle damage that can occur as a result of malnutrition or repeated vomiting may be life threatening. Common cardiac complications that may occur include the following:
- Arrhythmias (a fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat)
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
- Electrolytes (salts and minerals in the blood). Electrolyte abnormalities are common, especially in those who purge, abuse laxatives or diuretics, or drink excessive amounts of fluid. Electrolyte abnormalities may also develop during refeeding. Electrolyte abnormalities can cause abnormal heart rhythms, brain swelling, or other complications that can be life threatening.