In severe eating disorder cases, patients may require emergency care to stabilize their condition. Eating disorder hospitalization is more common among individuals with anorexia nervosa because anorexia is associated with more life-threatening symptoms than bulimia.
When is Eating Disorder Hospitalization Necessary?
Inpatient eating disorder treatment is necessary if the patient is:
- Continuing to lose weight despite outpatient treatment
- Less than 75 percent of a healthy weight
- Resistant to eating disorder outpatient treatment
- Severely malnourished
- Suffering from critical health concerns (i.e. electrolyte imbalances)
- Suffering from severe depression or is suicidal.
What to Expect From Inpatient Eating Disorder Treatment
A patient who is in the hospital receiving eating disorder treatment is carefully monitored. Her weight, vital signs and fluid intake are routinely measured and she receives frequent physical examinations to monitor her progress.
Expected weight gain is two to three pounds per week for inpatients, and one half to one pound per week for outpatients. Initially, calorie intake is moderate. Bloating, constipation and fluid retention may occur if the patient consumes too many calories too quickly. The patient will most likely exhibit intense anxiety about eating. Anti-anxiety or anti-psychotic medication may alleviate some of this anxiety.
Medical staff must closely supervise the patient during mealtimes to make sure she’s eating her food. Post-meal bathroom breaks are also monitored to ensure the patient isn’t vomiting her food. If the patient experiences extreme, severe anxiety about eating, a nocturnal feeding tube may be necessary to ensure the patient is receiving an adequate intake of calories and nutrition.
Eating Disorder Outpatient Options
After the patient is released from the hospital, she’ll require several months of follow-up care for her eating disorder. Outpatient hospital programs offer structured day treatment, including counseling, medical care and nutritional therapy. The patient may be required to attend the program part-time or full-time, depending on her progress.
Residential treatment facilities offer both outpatient and inpatient eating disorder treatment. These facilities provide treatment for individuals who require long-term care or who have been in the hospital a number of times, yet continue to relapse.
Ongoing Eating Disorder Treatment
Eating disorders can result in a variety of serious, ongoing health problems that may require continued observation and treatment. Such health problems include:
- Dental cavities (bulimia)
- Electrolyte imbalances
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Heart problems
- Low bone density leading to osteoporosis (anorexia)
- Mental health disorders
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Stunted growth (anorexia).
According to a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders (2001), the average eating disorder hospitalization stay was 150 days in 1984 and only 24 days in 1998. Such a significant decrease represents a greater understanding of eating disorders and an increase in the effectiveness of inpatient eating disorder treatment programs.
Franco, K. N. (n.d.). Eating disorders. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/psychiatry-psychology/eating-disorders/#cesec31
Mayo Clinic. (2009). Anorexia nervosa: Treatment. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/anorexia/DS00606/ DSECTION=complications
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. (2003). Food for thought: Substance abuse and eating disorders. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from http://www.casacolumbia.org/articlefiles/380-Food%20for%20Thought.pdf
Smith, M., Jaffe-Gill, E. & Segal, R. (2009). Anorexia nervosa: Signs, symptoms, causes and treatment. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from http://helpguide.org/mental/anorexia_signs_symptoms_causes_treatment.htm
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2009). Eating disorders – Treatment for anorexia. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/what_specific_treatments_patients_with _anorexia_000049_10.htm
Wiseman, C. V., Sunday, S. R., Klapper, F., Harris, W. A. & Halmi, K. A. (2001). Changing patterns of hospitalization in eating disorder patients. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 30, 69-74. DOL: 10.1002/eat.1055