Hospitalization for Anorexia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders

Providing Strucuture, Support & Medical Management

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Although people rarely want to talk about being hospitalized or having to seek hospitalization for a loved one, eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are extremely dangerous and potentially deadly diseases, and so in some cases hospitalization is necessary.

Inpatient hospitalization for eating disorders provides the patient with additional support, structure and care. It may be helpful to understand what will happen during an inpatient hospitalization for an eating disorder.

Hospitalization for Eating Disorders

Inpatient hospitalization normally doesn't last as long as outpatient care or residential treatment. Because hospitalization is very expensive, many sufferers only stay at the inpatient level of care until they have been medically stabilized and have reached a safe (although it may not be ideal) weight for them to continue treatment at a lower level of care.

The treatment team will consist of psychiatrists, physicians, therapists, dietitians and nursing staff. It may also include other specialists if needed, as well.

Intensive psychotherapy, or counseling, is a routine part of inpatient hospitalization. Because patients are at the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week, patients are able to have sessions with therapists much more frequently than on an outpatient basis. In some hospitals they may be able to meet with their individual therapist daily during the week.

Hospitalization also typically includes group therapy sessions and family therapy sessions as well.

Other Advantages of Hospitalization

Some hospitals are able to offer unique forms of therapy for anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders in addition to traditional psychotherapy. These additional offerings may include art therapy or music therapy.

Hospital staff also will provide basic nutrition information and nutritional counseling, and a dietitian will plan meals. Depending on the sufferer and their needs, the dietitian and treatment team will determine how much input a patient can have in regards to those meals.

For instance, if a patient is able to eat the prescribed amount consistently, they may be allowed to choose what foods they would like to eat at meals. However, if they are not able to eat enough at meals, they may be required to use meal supplements.

If the patient can't eat enough to regain or maintain weight, doctors and other treatment team members may recommend medical refeeding, which involves inserting a tube through the patient's nose down into the stomach. This tube then can carry nutrition directly to the stomach. Medical refeeding is one of the unique services that inpatient hospitalization is able to provide.

Another form of support that inpatient hospitalization is able to provide is supported meals. Staff members will typically eat all meals with patients to provide support and monitor intake, and will be available before and after meals to process any urges that patients are experiencing and to support patients during these anxiety-provoking times.

The medical management available at the inpatient level is extremely important. Many people who are hospitalized with eating disorders are experiencing medical complications, and inpatient units are often connected to or affiliated with a full hospital and can provide access to a number of specialists, including cardiologists. This also provides the patient with adequate nursing and medical staff, if needed.

Who Should Be Hospitalized?

Any time a person is experiencing medical complications from their eating disorder or they are unable to make progress on an outpatient basis, hospitalization may be considered appropriate. It is also appropriate when someone is suicidal, if the patient lives far away from treatment providers, or if there are other complicating factors.

Although hospitalization can be scary, it is also a very necessary component of treatment for many people. If your therapist, physician or dietitian is recommending hospitalization, please go. Choosing not to go to the hospital when needed can be extremely dangerous.

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