Anorexia Nervosa (Child)

Some teens have an extreme fear of becoming overweight. This leads them to eat very little. They may even appear to starve themselves. They are often underweight. This condition is called anorexia nervosa. It is a complex problem involving social, behavioral, cultural, physical, and mental components. It can affect boys as well as girls. Symptoms include severe weight loss, vomiting and diarrhea, lack of energy, and other serious physical problems.

It is hard to assess and care for children with anorexia. A complete physical and medical history is needed for a diagnosis. It is especially important to be alert when teen boys have weight loss or other anorexia-related symptoms. Often the anorexia symptoms can be overlooked and boys don't get appropriate care in a timely manner. Severe malnutrition may require a hospital stay and IV (intravenous) or tube feedings. Doctors, nurses, dietitians, and psychologists will be part of your child's healthcare team. A dietitian will work with the family to ensure healthy food and fluid intake and weight gain. A counselor and other mental health providers will help the family with conflicts and provide individual therapy to the child and family therapy. Full recovery often takes years.

Home care

  • Work with the healthcare team to make a consistent treatment plan.

  • Work with mental health providers to help your child break out of harmful thought and behavior patterns.

  • Let your child have some control over their situation and make healthy choices.

  • Be sure your child gets healthy foods and plenty of liquids to drink. Healthy weight gain should be slow and steady.

  • Provide time for regular, fun physical activity that matches your child’s endurance, calorie intake, and weight. Activities should promote self-esteem.

  • Offer support and reassurance to your child. Encourage your child to express their feelings.

  • If you have any concerns, contact your child’s healthcare team.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider or as advised.

Call 911

Call 911 if your child:

  • Is suicidal, has a clear suicide plan, and has the means to carry the plan out. Don't leave your child alone.

  • Has trouble breathing or skin or lips that look blue, purple, or gray

  • Is very confused, agitated, or irritable

  • Is very drowsy or has trouble awakening

  • Faints or has loss of consciousness

  • Has a rapid heart rate, very low heart rate, or a new irregular heart rate

  • Has chest pain

  • Has a seizure (rhythmic jerking of arms and legs)

  • Has severe stiff neck, headache, and fever

  • Vomits blood

  • Has severe dehydration symptoms: very tired, sunken eyes, not urinating, not making tears

  • Has large volume of blood in the stools

  • Has sudden spreading red or purple rash

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Continued refusal to eat or drink

  • Return of peculiar eating habits or rituals

  • Any signs of purging (vomiting, taking laxatives)

  • Continued weight loss or poor weight gain

  • Excessive exercise

  • Withdrawal from social interaction

  • Threats of suicide or self-harm

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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