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Medscape Womens Health. 1996 Sep;1(9):5.

What's New in the Treatment of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia?

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  • 1Private Practice in San Diego, Calif.


The 3 eating disorders--anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating--occur at a frequency far greater than usually realized. Anorexia has been found to be present in up to 1% of teenage and young adult women, whereas estimates of bulimia have ranged up to 5%. The prevalence of binge-eating disorder is not known, but may be higher than bulimia. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by weight loss, body image disturbance, and a morbid fear of weight gain. Bulimia nervosa is characterized by binge eating and compensatory purging by vomiting; use of laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills; exercise; or fasting. Binge-eating disorder is characterized by binge behavior and loss of control of food intake, with an absence of purging. Eating disorders create significant mortality and morbidity. Medical complications associated with anorexia are those related to malnutrition and semistarvation. Medical complications associated with bulimia are those related to electrolyte imbalance and the physical effects of vomiting. The mortality rate of eating disorders may be as high as 15%, including deaths from arrhythmia, gastric hemorrhaging, and suicide. The core struggle within women with anorexia is the "2 Ps": feeling powerless and striving towards perfectionism. The core conflict within a bulimic person appears to be the "2 Ds": deprivation and dependency. The treatment of eating disorders includes psychotherapy, and, frequently, psychopharmacologic intervention. The psychotherapy primarily addresses issues of chaotic eating, hunger, inadequate caloric intake, conditioned response, and profound fear of expressing impulses and feelings, especially those of anger and sadness. Antidepressants, especially serotonergic agents, have been found to be useful, particularly in the treatment of bulimia.

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