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Going into hospital

BMJ Group Medical Reference


This information is for people who have anorexia. It looks at whether inpatient treatment in hospital is useful for people with anorexia. It is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

We don't know for certain. Of course, going into hospital is crucial for people with anorexia who are so dangerously underweight that they could die. But if you're not badly ill, it's not clear whether going into hospital is any better than staying at home and visiting an outpatient clinic.

What is it?

If you have anorexia you may be admitted to hospital to help you get better. By 'getting better', we mean gaining weight and thinking in a more healthy way about your body and food. If you have anorexia but you're not dangerously weak, then you may do just as well by staying at home and visiting an outpatient clinic for treatment. [87] [88]

This is how treatment in a hospital usually works: [87]

  • You have to eat a certain amount of food each day. Usually you start off with small meals and snacks

  • There are rules about how long you can take to eat a meal

  • Your choice of food is limited

  • The nurses may watch how you eat your food and talk to you about this (especially if you cut your food into tiny pieces or chew it for a very long time)

  • You may not be allowed to weigh yourself straight after you eat

  • To stop you making yourself vomit, you probably won't be allowed to go to the toilet straight after a meal

  • You may also see a therapist often to talk about your thoughts and feelings

  • You might not be allowed to exercise some of the time. This is to make sure you don't overdo it.

To find out more about how anorexia is treated, see What you can expect from the NHS.

How can it help?

There's no good evidence that people with anorexia are more likely to gain weight and recover if they are treated in hospital. Research shows that people do just as well if they live at home and visit a clinic. However, not many studies have looked at this. [89] [90] [91] [92]

Of course, if you are very frail or in immediate danger, you need to go to hospital.

How does it work?

A lot of people who have anorexia don't want treatment. If you're one of them, you'll have worked out ways to avoid eating. You may hide your food. Or you might drag out mealtimes until you're allowed to give up.

If you're in hospital, you're more likely to stick to treatment because there are skilled people supporting you and controlling the situation for you. And it's harder to avoid eating. Also, in hospital you get attention and support when you feel upset or confused.

Last Updated: September 19, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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