Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by severe restraint in food intake and/or excess physical activity. It is often linked to negative feelings toward body image. Over time, anorexia can cause severe symptoms, such as stunted growth, bone loss, damage to major organs such as the heart, and even death.
The cause of anorexia in children is not known. It appears that genetics and environment play a role.
Anorexia can occur in both girls and boys, but is much more common in girls. Factors that increase your child’s risk of anorexia include:
Behavioral signs may appear before physical symptoms. They may include:
Physical symptoms may include:
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You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam and a psychological evaluation will be done. The diagnosis will be based on information from you and your child and the examination.
If anorexia is suspected or diagnosed, then your child’s doctor may order further tests to determine what effect the anorexia has had on your child’s overall health. Tests may include:
Management of anorexia will include:
The length and intensity of treatment will depend on the individual child. Regular supervision by health care specialist will help to make sure that hydration and nutrient levels have not dropped to dangerous levels during recovery. It may take many years to fully manage anorexia. Treatment should include more than one approach but may include:
You may be referred to a dietitian who will talk to you and your child about practical weight goals and calorie goals. A dietitian will also assure proper weight gain and help your child develop good eating habits.
Severe malnutrition may require the delivery of nutrients through a tube that is passed through the nose and into the stomach.
Therapy can help address factors that may be linked to your child’s anorexia including harmful thought patterns, anxiety, and poor self-esteem. It can also help your child develop a more positive attitude about food and their body image.
Work with your child’s doctor and therapists to determine which therapy may be best for your child. Your child may use more than one type of therapy or try different therapies before the right one is found. Some therapy options include:
If your child is depressed, antidepressant medication may be used
Hospitalization may be needed to provide critical nutrition or to monitor problems caused by the anorexia such as heart disorder.
An inpatient eating disorder program may help children who have not found success with outpatient programs.
Early detection and treatment is the best option. The following parenting tips may help prevent anorexia in children:
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
Caring for Kids—Canadian
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Last reviewed September 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 4/7/2015