Anorexia Hospitalization Criteria (Medical and Psychiatric)

Updated September 28, 2022
Girl with Anorexia Look in Mirror

Sometimes, people stress about gaining weight. But when someone goes to unhealthy lengths to lose a dangerous amount of weight, something has to change. If you see a loved one who is struggling with this type of behavior, you may be concerned about the possibility of an eating disorder, like anorexia nervosa.

When a person refuses to eat and exercises at a harmful level, they need help. While there are clinical criteria for hospitalization for anorexia, the reasons for hospitalization are complicated and usually intertwined with clinical and psychiatric symptoms.

Someone should be hospitalized for anorexia nervosa if they are medically unstable, in danger of imminent self-harm, or if they refuse outpatient treatment. A person suffering from anorexia may not want to go to the hospital. As a result close friends and family members might try to persuade them to seek help.

Anorexia Nervosa Symptoms and Statistics

Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder make up a trio of the most common eating disorders worldwide. Overall rates of anorexia are difficult to pin down because often an individual with one eating disorder will also show signs of another.


From the most recent research:

  • 9% of Americans will report an eating disorder in their lifetime.

  • 25% more transgender college students report an eating disorder than their cisgender peers.
  • 26% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder attempt suicide.
  • Eating disorders are the second deadliest mental illness next to opioid overdose.
  • People of color are much less likely to be asked about symptoms or diagnosed with an eating disorder.


The criteria for hospitalization for anorexia nervosa usually occur later in the progression of the disorder. The first signs and symptoms of anorexia are:

  • Accompanying symptoms of bulimia (eating and vomiting)
  • Diet addiction and a habit of limiting calories although body weight is already low
  • Distorted body image; someone with anorexia may be very thin but see fat when they look in the mirror
  • Feeling hungry but refusing to eat or eating very little
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Lack of proper calorie intake
  • Preoccupation with food and eating habits of yourself and often others

Anorexia Criteria for Hospitalization

Often the reasons for hospitalization of an individual with anorexia are intertwined with advanced anorexia symptoms. Sometimes a long-term care facility is warranted. There are two categories of reasons why an individual might be hospitalized for anorexia:

  • Medical
  • Psychiatric

Medical Reasons for Hospitalization

Some key medical indicators for hospitalization are basic starvation signs that include:

  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Constipation
  • Intolerance of cold
  • Lack of menstrual cycle
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Poor skin turgor (skin loses its elasticity)
  • Sore joints

Other medical indicators are:

  • Abnormally low temperature
  • Anemia (low blood count)
  • Heart rate falls below 40 beats per minute or above 110 beats per minute
  • Infection of any kind (anorexia can complicate a simple infection)
  • Low serum potassium levels. (can cause dangerous heart arrhythmias)
  • Severe dehydration
  • Testing and diagnosis
  • Vomiting of blood
  • Weight loss exceeds 25% of total body weight over three months

Psychiatric Reasons for Hospitalization

A family crisis or high-stress situation like the start of college or the end of a relationship can lead to a need for hospitalization.

  • Poor response to/refusal of outpatient treatment
  • Presence of another mental instability like psychosis
  • Self-mutilation
  • Severe depression or anxiety
  • Suicide threats

Anorexia can cause deterioration of most of an individual's body functions and result in death. This is why proper and timely anorexia treatment is so important.

Long-Term Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa

Long-term treatment facilities, also known as residential treatment centers are for medically stable people who suffer from an eating disorder. Staff at these facilities can provide general accountability and support while the patient works to overcome their disorder. While living at a facility, people receive meal support, are prevented from exercising excessively, and receive more therapy than they could as an outpatient.

Prevent Anorexia Early

You cannot completely prevent any disease from occurring, but in the case of eating disorders like anorexia, family interactions can play a huge role in making sure the odds of a young person developing anorexia are slim.

Myths about "cleaning your plate" should be eliminated altogether, and children - even from a young age - should be allowed to learn how to self-regulate their hunger and the types of foods they eat. There should be a family focus on inner worth, not simply outer beauty, and the family's eating habits as a whole should be balanced and healthy. If you're the parent of young children, talk to their doctor about how to instill more healthy food-related behaviors into your family's routine. You may head off an eating disorder before it ever occurs.

If you or someone you love are suffering from anorexia, please know you are not alone and help is available.

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Anorexia Hospitalization Criteria (Medical and Psychiatric)