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The Chronic Struggle with Anorexia Nervosa

Patients have high risk of relapse up to two-years after treatment, study finds

Women who have suffered from anorexia nervosa are at significant risk of relapse up to two years after in-patient treatment, according to a study from U of T and Toronto General Hospital.

Researchers followed 51 patients who had regained weight after treatment in hospital. They found that within two years of being discharged, 35 per cent of the women had relapsed into anorexia, and the highest risk period was six to 17 months after discharge. Earlier research had suggested a relapse would occur within a year of finishing in-patient treatment.

“Our most important finding is that in a significant proportion of cases, the illness is chronic and debilitating,” says Dr. Jacqueline Carter, the lead author of the study, a psychiatry professor at U of T and a staff psychologist in Toronto General Hospital’s eating disorders program. “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.”

The strongest predictor of relapse is excessive exercise immediately following discharge from the hospital. Other factors include a history of suicide attempts, obsessive-compulsive symptoms and an excessive concern about weight and shape.

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