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Anorexia Nervosa

To make an appointment, browse our providers who treat anorexia nervosa or call (212) 305-6001

Facts to Know:

  • Anorexia nervosa can cause significant impairment, limiting some individuals from reaching their career or academic potential.
  • Starvation causes significant behavioral, medical, and psychological symptoms.
  • Research shows that early interventions with structured psychological/behavioral interventions have best outcome, and weight gain is essential.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by restrictive eating that leads to low body weight and is associated with the fear of becoming fat and a preoccupation with body image. The starvation state of anorexia is associated with significant medical consequences such as low blood pressure, low heart rate, low body temperature and low bone density. Anorexia Nervosa affects 0.4% of women, and approximately 0.5% of adolescent girls in the United States have anorexia. While the exact cause of anorexia is not known, genetic and environmental factors play a role. Anorexia does run in families, and eating disorders are more prevalent in certain cultures.  Further, anorexia nervosa is more common in individuals whose relatives have other psychiatric disorders.  Dieting has been shown to be a risk factor for eating disorders including anorexia..

Symptoms

Anorexia Nervosa may present differently in each person but is defined by:

  • Food restriction that leads to low body weight or failure to grow in children and adolescents
  • Fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
  • Disturbance in body image or lack of recognition of severity of low body weight
  • A key feature of the binge-eating/purging type is episodes of binging or purging (self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives, misuse of diuretics or excessive exercise).

The starvation state also contributes to the development of symptoms that may appear consistent with other disorders such as obsession with food, compulsive eating behavior, depressed mood, insomnia, and social isolation.

Diagnosis

A diagnosis of anorexia nervosa is best made by a doctor or mental health professional and should include a diagnostic psychiatric interview as well as a physical examination that includes evaluation of vital signs and laboratory assessment. It is crucial to evaluate weight status as well as growth charts in children and adolescents.

Treatment

At ColumbiaDoctors, we provide individual and group treatments including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Search our providers for a therapist or psychiatrist who might be a good fit. For patients who require treatment for anorexia and other co-occurring mental health challenges, the Columbia Day Program provides a structured, intensive treatment approach including meal support groups at lunchtime, eating disorder-focused group therapy, and other services tailored to individual needs.

Psychotherapy 

Weight restoration is an essential component of treatment for Anorexia Nervosa. Acute weight restoration requires a multi-disciplinary team to manage medical risks associated with weight restoration in the starved state, as well as psychological support during this challenging time.

In addition, psychotherapy and other behavioral interventions are an important component of treatment for anorexia nervosa.  

Psychopharmacology (Medication Management)

Medication has not shown to be helpful for anorexia nervosa; however, treatment of other additional conditions (anxiety disorders, depression) that may benefit from a psychopharmacological intervention may be indicated.  

Medical Referral

Referral is available to an appropriate ColumbiaDoctors specialist for those with medical consequences of anorexia nervosa.

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