Medications for Eating Disorders
Many people do not need medications for eating disorders during treatment, but eating disorder medications are needed in some cases. When they are used, it's important that they be only part of a treatment plan; there is no magic cure for eating disorders. Patients also need to be aware that all eating disorder medications come with side effects and the risks of the drug needs to be evaluated against the potential benefit.
These medications are primarily prescribed to stabilize the patient both mentally and physically. Eating disorder medications include:
- Psychiatric medications
- "Other" medications
- Medications for co-existing medical and/or mental health conditions
Medications for Eating Disorders: Electrolytes
Because eating disorders, like anorexia and bulimia, involve severe restriction of food, the body's electrolytes, chemicals needed for the body to function, need to be replentished. Without the proper electrolyte balance, there can be emergency eating disorder health problems and complications involving the heart and brain.
- Potassium chloride
- Calcium gluconate
- Potassium phosphate
Psychiatric Medication for Eating Disorders
Only one psychiatric medication has been FDA approved to treat eating disorders: fluoxetine (Prozac) is approved for the treatment of bulimia. However, other psychiatric medications may be used in treatment for any eating disorder. Because of depression, anxiety, impulse and obsessive disorders commonly seen in patients with anorexia or bulimia, the patient may receive antidepressants or mood stabilizers.
Common psychiatric eating disorder medications include the following types:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI): these antidepressants have the strongest evidence as eating disorder medications with the fewest side effects. In addition to fluoxetine, examples of SSRIs include sertraline () and fluvoxamine (Luvox).
- Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): These older antidepressants have some evidence as being effective in eating disorders treatment; however, they have more side effects than SSRIs. An example is imipramine (Tofranil).
- Other antidepressants: Other antidepressants are also used in the treatment process. Examples are bupropion (Wellbutrin) and trazodone (Desyrel)
- Mood stabilizers: There is some evidence for using mood stabilizers to treat eating disorder patients. Because mood stabilizers can have adverse effects such as weight loss, mood stabilizers are not a first choice for eating disorder medications. Examples of mood stabilizers are: topiramate (Topiramate) and lithium.
Medication for Co-existing Conditions
Even if medications for eating disorders are not indicated, the patient may have other medical conditions that need to be managed with medication. Psychiatric disorders like depression, bipolar, anxiety, substance abuse, ocd and ADHD are extremely common in patients with an eating disorder. Medications for eating disorders may also be prescribed to manage the physical damage done by the eating disorder.
Examples of other medications for eating disorders and co-existing conditions include:
- Orlistat (Xenical): an anti-obesity drug
- Ephedrine and caffeine: stimulants; energizing drugs
- Methylphenidate: typically used when attention deficit hyperactivity disorder accompanies the eating disorder
Last Updated: 06 July 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD