News ID: 176200
Published: 0217 GMT January 22, 2017

Many women with eating disorders do recover

Many women with eating disorders do recover

The media often portrays women with eating disorders of anorexia and bulimia as untreatable, and sadly, in about one-third of cases that may be true, new research suggested.

But the same small study found that nearly two-thirds of these women did recover from these eating disorders — though in some cases it took more than a decade for them to get better, UPI reported.

"The findings inspire me to remain hopeful in my work as a clinician with these patients," said study lead author Kamryn Eddy, the co-director of the Eating Disorders Clinical and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

An estimated 20 million females and 10 million males in the US will have an eating disorder.

Death rates from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are estimated to be around four to five percent, the National Eating Disorders Association said.

Anorexia is characterized as self-starvation leading to severe weight loss, while bulimia involves frequent cycles of binge-eating and purging.

Previous research has suggested that only half of people with eating disorders recover, the authors of the new study said.

To better understand the long-term prospects for these patients, the researchers recruited 246 women with an eating disorder. All were treated at outpatient clinics in the Boston area from 1987 to 1991.

There were 110 women who had bulimia, the rest had anorexia. On average, they were in their 20s when the study began. Ninety-five percent of the participants were white.

The researchers ended up focusing on 176 patients who agreed to take part in a follow-up at 20 to 25 years. Of the others, 18 died, 15 could not be located and 37 declined to participate.

The researchers found that among those who took part in the 20- to 25-year follow-up, 68 percent of those with bulimia and 63 percent of those with anorexia had recovered.

The researchers defined recovery as going without symptoms for at least a year.

Eddy said, “Our study showed that given time, most individuals with anorexia and bulimia will recover. Time to recovery from bulimia is faster than recovery in anorexia.

“More than two-thirds of bulimia patients had recovered by nine years, the study found. If patients don't recover from bulimia by a decade, it's not likely that they will.

“As for anorexia, recovery continues to occur over time, even well beyond 10 years of illness.

“Only 31 percent of study participants with anorexia had recovered by nine years, but by the 20- to 25-year follow-up, 63 percent had, the study found.”

It's not clear which treatments were most helpful to these women.

She added, "Participants received all types of treatment, including outpatient individual, family and group therapy, inpatient and residential treatment, nutritional counseling, medications and medical care.

"Many continued to receive treatment on and off throughout the study period. It may not be possible to generalize the study findings to people seeking treatment in 2016.”

Cynthia Bulik is a professor and founding director of the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders.

She praised the new study, but said, “It is disheartening that 7.3 percent of the participants died during the follow-up period, which is consistent with what we know about the lethality of these illnesses.

"We are not doing a good enough job in treating these illnesses. There are no medications that are effective in the treatment of anorexia, in part because we do not yet fully understand the biology and the genetics of the illness."

The antidepressant Prozac (fluoxetine) is approved for treatment of bulimia, Bulik said, but its long-term value isn't known.

The good news, she said, is that while recovery from anorexia is slow, it's still possible even in someone who's suffered for more than 10 years.

Bulik noted, "Just because a treatment approach did not work in the first five years of illness, for example, does not mean it won't be effective in year 15.

“As for bulimia, recovery is quicker, but patients may relapse even decades later. People with histories of both disorders should always remain vigilant for the re-emergence of symptoms.”

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