Anorexia Nervosa

Is a complex disorder characterized by:

  • severe weight loss
  • fear of gaining weight
  • extreme preoccupation with weight and body shape
  • amenorrhea

At present, specialists recognize two types of Anorexia Nervosa:

  • restricting type
  • binge-eating/purging type

In addition to symptoms caused by fasting, this disorder results in serious physical, cognitive, emotional and social changes accompanied by a pathological attitude toward food.
90-95% of cases are women (0.28% of all young women), with the onset typically occurring between the ages of 12 and 25. Those affected usually have a normal IQ, while their BMI (body mass index) is lower than 17,5. Anorexia Nervosa is common in the worlds of fashion and ballet.

Treatment is complex. Outpatient therapy is possible only for patients that respond to the following criteria:

  • if weight loss is not yet extreme
  • if the disease is caught early on
  • in the absence of serious medical complications
  • if there is willingness to change
  • if the family environment is functional

Brief outpatient therapy can be experimented with even in cases where all of the above criteria are not met, however, if there is no significant improvement within a few months, it is best to hospitalise the person affected in order to avoid the disease from becoming chronic.

Hospitalisation in a specialist centre becomes necessary in cases where the following factors manifest:

  • severe, unstoppable weigh loss (i.e. BMI lower than 15 or even a loss of 1,5-2,5 kg per week for about one month);
  • hypokalemia
  • psychological and behavioural problems untreatable at home;
  • unsatisfactory response to outpatient therapy;
  • the need to temporarily separate the patient affected by Anorexia Nervosa (or also Bulimia Nervosa) from the family. Often families have exhausted all of their resources, particularly from a psychological point of view, and express anger and hostility towards the sick family member. In other cases, conflicting opinions between family members regarding the approach to be taken cause additional problems. For these reasons, temporary placement outside of the family environment can facilitate a more open approach to dealing with issues in a neutral environment.