Understanding Anorexia -- Diagnosis and Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on September 29, 2022
1 min read

Possible warning signs include:

  • Significant weight loss
  • Intense fear of getting fat
  • Turning away food
  • Denying hunger
  • Constant and excessive exercise
  • Cold sensitivity
  • Absent or irregular menstrual periods
  • Hair loss
  • Tooth decay
  • Fatigue
  • Social isolation
  • Vomiting or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas

Treatment for anorexia must address both psychological and physical problems. The treatment team should include a mental health professional and a primary care doctor.

Successful treatment usually includes continuous medical care, regular therapy, nutritional counseling, and sometimes medication. Although certain antidepressants are sometimes used to treat anorexia, they are not always effective, and no medication is FDA approved to treat it.

Doctors should pay attention to bone loss, electrolyte levels in the blood, and heart function. Psychologists and other types of mental health professionals can help a person let go of self-destructive thoughts and behaviors and adopt a more positive outlook. Support groups of other recovering anorexics -- when properly moderated by a mental health professional -- can also be very helpful.

Treatment usually is successful, but it doesn't work overnight. Long-term psychological and medical attention usually is needed.