Bulimia can have devastating personal and medical effects and deciding to seek treatment for bulimia is a huge and difficult step for most bulimics. The goal of bulimia nervosa treatment is to stop the binge eating and purging cycles while dealing with any complications brought about by the eating disorder. Other bulimia treatment goals include:
- Creating a healthy attitude towards food
- Gaining self-esteem
- Creating nutritional eating patterns
- Preventing relapse
A bulimia treatment plan, created by a doctor, addresses all these issues and may include medical, supervised self-help, nutritional, therapeutic and support group treatment recommendations. The most successful bulimia treatment plans contain a combination of approaches.
Medical Treatment for Bulimia
Visiting the doctor for a proper bulimia test and diagnosis is the first step in the treatment process. A doctor interviews the patient and run tests to ensure a correct diagnosis and to assess any physical and psychological damage done by the eating disorder. (See bulimia side effects.) The doctor will also try to assess any additional mental illness the bulimic may need treatment for - such as body dysmorphic disorder, substance abuse, depression or a personality disorder.
Next, the doctor will typically decide whether inpatient or outpatient treatment for bulimia is required. Inpatient bulimia treatment is uncommon but is used in severe cases, particularly where there are further medical complications (read about bulimia treatment centers). The doctor will also determine if a medication, typically an antidepressant, is required for the treatment for bulimia.
Drug treatment has been shown to decrease bulimic behaviors, such as binge eating and vomiting, by up to 60%, although relapses are common when medication is discontinued.1 Doctors can choose from several medications:2
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) - the preferred type of antidepressant; thought to help decrease the depressive symptoms often associated with bulimia, helping the bulimic develop a more positive body image. Eg. Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Tricyclics (TCAs) - another type of antidepressant thought to help with depression and body image. TCAs are generally only used if SSRIs fail as a bulimia treatment. (eg. Desipramine Norpramin)
- Antiemetics - a drug specifically designed to suppress nausea or vomiting. Eg. Ondansetron (Zofran)
(More information on medications for eating disorders.)
Medical treatment for bulimia also typically involves dentistry to address the effects the illness has on teeth and gums.
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