Anorexia nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating and food behavior that affects mainly young women and adolescent girls. Symptoms of the condition include obsessions with food and weight loss, a fear of becoming obese, and an unachievable standard of beauty. People with anorexia may starve themselves for long periods or develop extreme exercise habits. They may also vomit after eating or take laxatives to force food to move through their bodies more rapidly. In the long run, these behaviors have an increasingly detrimental effect on the body. Malnutrition may result in a lack of energy, dizziness, irritability, and a reduced sex drive. As anorexia progresses, organ damage, heart problems and weakened bones are all potential consequences. When anorexia proves fatal, heart failure is often the cause of death.
Treatment for anorexia is multipronged because it is both physical and psychological. Of course, adequate nutrition must be restored to counteract the physical ravages of anorexia. Dietitians can offer guidance on healthy and nutritious meal planning and appropriate calorie intakes. At the same time, the psychological aspect of anorexia must be addressed for any recovery to be successful. Therapy of any form is important during the recovery process. Of course, family should always be involved and supportive. Antidepressant medications have long been employed to ease the depression or anxiety often associated with anorexia. As for medications that specifically address the causes of anorexia, no such silver bullet yet exists.
A recent study in Canada look at whether Zyprexa (olanzapine), an atypical antipsychotic medication, might be effective for people in the early stages of recovery from anorexia. A retrospective review of charts compared people given Zyprexa with a those given standard treatment. In the end, people given this medication showed no greater weight gain or psychological improvement than the non-Zyprexa group. However, those given Zyprexa also presented more serious symptoms and comorbid conditions, facts that likely led to the prescription of an antipsychotic medication in the first place. It’s possible that the Zyprexa group did experience a more significant “absolute” improvement, but there’s simply not enough date to be sure. Because of all the confounding variables and lack of follow-up, researchers could not make any recommendations on Zyprexa use with this specific population. The side effects of Zyprexa, including sleepiness and dizziness, mean that it should be employed with care in the treatment of anorexia, if at all.
- Anorexia nervosa – MayoClinic.com. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 19, 2012, from mayoclinic.com/health/anorexia/DS00606
- Norris, M.L., Spettigue, W., Buchholz, A., Henderson, K.A., Gornez, R., Maras, D., Gaboury, I., & Ni, A. (2011). Olanzapine use for adjunctive treatment of adolescents with anorexia nervosa. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 21, (3), 213-220.
- Olanzapine – PubMed Health. (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved March 19, 2012, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000161/
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