When Do Doctors Prescribe Antidepressants for Anorexia?

There is no medication that specifically treats anorexia. But doctors do sometimes prescribe certain antidepressants or other types of medicines to help some of the symptoms of anorexia, such as depression or anxiety.

When you have anorexia, you’re so afraid of gaining weight that you starve yourself. Then you get symptoms that can make you sick or even threaten your life. One of the most common signs of anorexia is depression.

Do Antidepressants Work?

Treatment plans for anorexia are specific to each person, but usually include counseling and meal plans. Sometimes people do well when they also take antidepressants. In particular, the antidepressant Prozac has helped treat anorexia in some studies.

Some research shows that Prozac (fluoxetine) seems to make people with anorexia feel better and gain weight. But other data shows it made symptoms of depression get better, but did not affect the anorexia or weight.

Other antidepressants seem to help improve the symptoms of bulimia, which is a related eating disorder, but not anorexia. But because so many people with anorexia also have depression and other mood disorders, some doctors think these types of medications are still worth considering.

Side Effects of Antidepressants

There aren’t any known long-term side effects from taking antidepressants. Problems, if they occur, often go away after the first week or two. The most common side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight gain

There are also some sexual side effects, such as trouble with orgasm or ejaculation, which often don’t go away while you’re taking the medicine.

Serious Dangers

Some antidepressants carry a warning about possible suicidal thoughts in children and teenagers. If a young person you know is taking one, you need to watch him or her closely for this type of thinking.

Also, people shouldn’t use drugs or drink alcohol when they take antidepressants. These can make depression worse and increase negative effects. They may even make the person feel sedated. In case of an overdose, call 911 immediately or the poison control center at 800-222-1222.

Before you start taking an antidepressant, tell your doctor the following:

  • Any thoughts you have about ending your life
  • Previous and current medications, and any side effects
  • Any psychiatric or medical problems
  • If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or plan to become pregnant
  • If you drink alcohol or use drugs
  • If you’re seeing a counselor

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Don’t Stop Taking an Antidepressant Suddenly

If you’re taking an antidepressant for anorexia and want to stop, talk to your doctor first. If you quit it suddenly, it could make your symptoms come back. It can also lead to withdrawal symptoms, including:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Headache
  • Prickling or tingling sensations on your skin
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on August 10, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

FDA

Mayo Clinic: “Anorexia nervosa: Treatment.”

National Alliance on Mental Illness: “Fluoxetine (Prozac).”

Medscape: “Medication Summary: Antidepressive agents, Atypical antipsychotics.”

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