Researchers at the University of Chicago and Stanford University assessed 79 adolescents with anorexia from an original cohort of 121 participants who had achieved remission from anorexia nervosa after completing a randomized clinical trial comparing family-based therapy (FBT) and adolescent focused therapy (AFT). Follow-up assessments were completed up to four years post-treatment. Participants completed the Eating Disorder Examination as well as self-report measures of self-esteem and depression at two to four years post-treatment.
Two participants relapsed, but there were no differences based on treatment group assignment in either relapse from full remission or new remission during long-term follow-up. Other psychopathology was stable over time.
“There were few changes in the clinical presentation of participants who were assessed at long-term follow-up,” the researchers stated. “These data suggest that outcomes are generally stable post-treatment regardless of treatment type once remission is achieved.”
Angela Guarda, M.D., an expert in eating disorders at Johns Hopkins University of School of Medicine, told Psychiatric News that the study is important “as it validates that remission is a very important marker of treatment progress and is generally associated with longer-term recovery if sustained” and “reinforces that early treatment is critical as it may help prevent chronicity in what can be a very serious and even life-threatening condition.”
She cautioned, however, that vulnerability to relapse may still remain in remitted cases. “It is not unusual to elicit a distant history of a brief episode of adolescent anorexia nervosa in patients who present clinically with the disorder as adults,” she said.
For more on the subject, see the Psychiatric News article "Expert Hopeful About Future of Treatment for Eating Disorders."