Anorexia: Treatment

Treatment for anorexia is psychotherapeutic and medical. No known medication can address the core symptoms of anorexia, though drugs are often prescribed to treat co-occurring symptoms.

Psychotherapeutic: While one-on-one cognitive behavioral therapy is often used for adults with anorexia, the most successful treatments for children and adolescents involve the whole family—intensive family therapy and education that enables parents and siblings to help a child with anorexia return to normal eating patterns. The first goal of any treatment is to restore your child to a healthy weight, and she should be immediately hospitalized for this purpose if she is in any medical danger. Milder cases respond well to family therapy; more severe cases require a hospital stay or a residential program. The disadvantage to residential programs is that patients tend to relapse when they are back at home, unless the family lifestyle has changed to make it incompatible with the dangerous behaviors. Treatment is more effective when the disorder is caught early, and the longer a child stays at a healthy weight, the less likely she is to relapse.

Pharmacological: Some drugs, particularly antidepressants, have been effective in treatment, but they are most often targeted at another condition the child might also have, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Treating the co-occurring disorder can make the therapy for anorexia more successful.