Objective: To provide a summary of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Anorexia Nervosa (AN).
Conclusions: Anorexia nervosa affects only a small proportion of the Australian and New Zealand population but it is important because it is a serious and potentially life-threatening illness. Sufferers often struggle with AN for many years, if not for life, and the damage done to their minds and bodies may be irreversible. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by a deliberate loss of weight and refusal to eat. Overactivity is common. Approximately 50% of patients also use unhealthy purging and vomiting behaviours to lose weight. There are two main areas of physical interest: the undernutrition and malnutrition of the illness and the various detrimental weight-losing behaviours themselves. Basic psychopathology ranges from an over-valued idea of high salience concerning body shape through to total preoccupation and eventually to firmly held ideas that resemble delusions. Comorbid features are frequent, especially depression and obsessionality. It is inadvisable in clinical practice to apply too strict a definition of AN because to do so excludes patients in the early stage of the illness in whom prompt intervention is most likely to be effective. The best treatment appears to be multidimensional/multidisciplinary care, using a range of settings as required. Obviously, the medical manifestations of the illness need to be addressed and any physical harm halted and reversed. It is difficult to draw conclusions about the efficacy of further treatments. There is a paucity of clinical trials, and their quality is poor. Furthermore, the stimuli for developing AN are varied, and the psychotherapy options to address these problems need to be tailored to suit the individual patient. Because there is no known ‘chemical imbalance’ that causes the illness, no one drug offers relief. There is a high rate of relapse, and some patients are unable to recover fully. Because AN is a psychiatric illness, a psychiatrist should always be involved in its treatment. All psychiatrists should be capable of assuming this responsibility. Because cognitive behavioural methods are generally accepted as the best mode of therapy, a clinical psychologist should also be involved in treatment. Because medical manifestations are important, someone competent in general medicine should always be consulted. The optimal approach is multidisciplinary or at least multiskilled, with important contributions from psychologists, general practitioners, psychiatric nurses, paediatricians, dietitians and social workers.