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UPMC to treat teenagers suffering from devastation of eating disorders

Ben Schmitt
| Monday, Nov. 21, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

UPMC is expanding the way it treats eating disorders by targeting children, in an effort to intervene before these potentially life-threatening illnesses spiral out of control.

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC now offers inpatient care for children 15 and younger through a collaboration with the UPMC Center of Eating Disorders and Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

Two levels of outpatient care are offered at Children's Pine Center for patients ages 12 to 18: a partial hospitalization program and an intensive outpatient program. Neither Children's nor the Pine Center offered these types of programs to treat eating disorders previously.

“The earlier and more aggressively you treat eating disorders, the better chance of recovery,” Dr. Alexis Fertig, director of the Center of Eating Disorders, told the Tribune-Review. “It's a scary illness, an interesting illness and it is heartbreaking.”

Eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, affect millions of people annually in the United States. They can greatly harm a person's physical and emotional health when left untreated. One in five anorexia deaths is by suicide, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Anorexia nervosa can be characterized by self-starving and preoccupation with body size and shape. Bulimia involves binge-eating and self-induced vomiting along with dissatisfaction with body size and shape.

Fertig said anorexia and bulimia can result in malnourishment, organ damage, gastrointestinal distress, dehydration and other ailments.

“The key thing in treatment is the re-feeding process and making sure we do that in a safe manner,” she said.

The Children's treatment team includes psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, dietitians, nurse practitioners and nurses with experience in eating disorders.

The partial hospitalization program provides meal support five hours a week for six hours each day. Patients in the intensive outpatient program are treated three days a week with one structured meal a day.

Goals of inpatient treatment include balancing nutrition, restoring adequate body weight and repairing eating habits.

Family therapy sessions are also part of the programs.

“This can be devastating for families,” Fertig said. “Teaching the parent or caregiver how to re-feed the child again is important in getting every back on track. In general, we want to get children and families back to enjoying life again.”

For more information on the UPMC Center for Eating disorders, call 412-647-9329 or visit www.chp.edu/eatingdisorders .

Ben Schmitt is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7991 or bschmitt@tribweb.com.

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