Anorexia Relapse Risk Lingers

Researchers find patients susceptible for up to two years

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MONDAY, June 28, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Anorexia nervosa is often chronic and women can suffer a relapse long after they've been treated for the eating disorder, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Toronto and Toronto General Hospital found women who've been treated for anorexia nervosa face a significant risk of relapse for up to two years after they've returned to their normal weight and been discharged from the hospital.

The study of 51 patients found 35 percent of them relapsed within two years of leaving Toronto General Hospital's eating disorders program. The mean time for relapse was 18 months.

"Our most important finding is that in a significant proportion of cases, the illness is chronic and debilitating," study leader and psychiatry professor Dr. Jacqueline Carter said in a prepared statement.

"We're pretty good at helping people to become weight-restored in the hospital, but really the challenge now is to figure out how to improve relapse prevention treatments and improve long-term outcomes for people with anorexia nervosa," Carter said.

The study found the strongest predictor for relapse was intensive exercise immediately after a patient was discharged from the hospital. Other strong predictors were: previous suicide attempts, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and too much concern about weight and shape.

This information about predictors can be used to develop ways to prevent relapses, Carter said.

The study appeared in a recent issue of Psychological Medicine.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about anorexia nervosa.

SOURCE: University of Toronto, news release, June 23, 2004

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