Medications have been proven to be very effective in some psychiatric disorders such as depression. In eating disorders, the evidence for using medication is not as strong. Still, medications can be an important part of eating disorder treatment. There are basically three functions for medication in treating people with eating disorders; each of these is covered below.
For bulimia nervosa, psychotherapy is typically the foundation of treatment. Medication may be used along with psychotherapy, or may be useful in situations where psychotherapy has not been effective. Most antidepressants are helpful in reducing bulimic symptoms. For example, fluoxetine (better known by its commercial name, Prozac) has shown promise in treating bulimia nervosa (BN), whether as an adjunct to psychotherapy or as the sole treatment intervention. Interestingly, the doses of fluoxetine that help bulimia appear to be higher than the doses typically used to treat depression.
There is little evidence that medications are helpful in directly treating the symptoms of anorexia nervosa (AN). Many medications have been tried, including antidepressants, neuroleptics (such as risperidone/Risperdal and olanzapine/Zyprexa), and antihistamines (including cyproheptadine). Hopefully in coming years new medications and new research will make medication a more useful and effective option for people with AN.
Medication definitely has a role in treating conditions that occur at the same time as AN or BN. Treatment of these conditions, such as depression or anxiety, may facilitate more effective treatment of the eating disorder. For instance in AN, malnutrition may sometimes cause symptoms of low energy and poor concentration that my mimic depression. But sometimes depression occurs simultaneously with AN. If someone is struggling with a depressive disorder marked by hopelessness and poor concentration, the return of hope and the ability to focus can be a springboard for recovery from the eating disorder.
If you are have an eating disorder and are interested in exploring medication options in treatment, consult the physician treating you.