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Inpatient Hospitalization

Providing Strucuture, Support & Medical Management


Updated September 29, 2012

People rarely want to talk about being hospitalized or having to seek hospitalization for a loved one. Unfortunately, eating disorders are extremely dangerous and potentially deadly diseases. Although the majority of cases can be treated on an outpatient basis, many sufferers need the additional support, structure and care that inpatient hospitalization provides.

What does inpatient hospitalization entail?

Inpatient hospitalization is typically more short-term than other levels of care such as outpatient or residential treatment. Because of the expense and limitations that are often in place because of insurance, many sufferers only stay at the inpatient level of care until they have been medically stabilized and have reached a safe (although it may not be ideal) weight for them to continue treatment at a lower level of care.

The treatment team on an inpatient unit will consist of psychiatrists, physicians, therapists, dieticians and nursing staff. It may also include other specialists if needed, as well.

Intensive psychotherapy, or counseling, is a routine part of inpatient hospitalization. Because patients are at the hospital 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, patients are able to have sessions with therapists much more frequently than on an outpatient basis. In some hospitals they may be able to meet with their individual therapist daily during the week. Hospitalization also typically includes group therapy sessions and family therapy sessions as well.

Some hospitals are able to offer unique forms of therapy as an adjunct to traditional psychotherapy. These may include art therapy or music therapy.

Meals plans will be given by a dietician at the inpatient level. Depending on the sufferer and their needs, the dietician and treatment team will determine how much input a patient can have in regards to what they eat. For instance, if a patient is able to eat the prescribed amount consistently, they may be allowed to choose what foods they would like to eat at meals. However, if they are not able to eat enough at meals, they may be required to use meal supplements. One of the unique services that inpatient hospitalization is able to provide is medical refeeding. When sufferers are unable to eat enough to regain or maintain their weight, the doctors and other members of the treatment team may recommend medical refeeding which may occur through a tube. Basic nutrition information and nutritional counseling will also occur at the inpatient level.

Another form of support that inpatient hospitalization is able to provide is supported meals. Staff will typically eat all meals with patients to provide support and monitor intake. Staff will also be available before and after meals to process any urges that patients are experiencing and to support them during these anxiety- provoking times.

The medical management available at the inpatient level is extremely important. Many people who are hospitalized with eating disorders are experiencing medical complications. Inpatient units are often connected to or affiliated with a full hospital and can provide access to a number of specialists including cardiologists. This also provides the patient with adequate nursing and medical staff if needed.

Who is inpatient hospitalization appropriate for?

Anytime a person is experiencing medical complications from their eating disorder or they are unable to make progress on an outpatient basis, inpatient hospitalization may be considered appropriate. It is also appropriate when someone is suicidal, they live far away from treatment providers or they have other complicating factors.

Although hospitalization can be scary, it is also a very necessary component of treatment for many people. If your therapist, physician or dietician is recommending hospitalization, please go. Choosing not to go to the hospital when needed can be extremely dangerous.

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