Treating an eating disorder can be very complicated. The relapse rate is very high, and those who finish treatment often find that before long they are caught in a cycle of treatment and relapse. A patient who seeks help in recovering may have been suffering from an eating disorder for many years before admitting to themselves or loved ones that they have a need for treatment.
Complicating treatment is the appearance of other mental disorders. Those who suffer from eating disorders often also suffer from anxiety or depression. Recently, a study was conducted to examine comorbidities in eating disorder patients.
The study is critical to the treatment of eating disorders, as treatment programs are increasingly centered on treating the whole person. Treating an eating disorder without addressing co-occurring symptoms of anxiety or depression can result in a quick relapse due to the complicated emotions that are involved with eating behaviors.
The researchers examined the records of 2,436 female inpatients that received treatment between January 1, 1995 and December 31, 2000. They were all diagnosed with anorexia, bulimia and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS) according to the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th Edition.
The researchers relied on multivariate analysis of variance and multinomial logistical regression, including controls for sociodemographic variables and severity of illness measures.
The researchers found that 97 percent of the patients they considered showed that their eating disorders were co-morbid. Ninety-four percent of the patients exhibited mood disorders, which were largely diagnosed as unipolar depression. There were no differences measured across different eating disorder diagnoses.
In addition, 56 percent met criteria for anxiety disorders, with no differences noted between types of eating disorders and 22 percent met criteria for substance use disorders. This type of co-morbidity did differ across the types of eating disorders. Bulimia was highly associated with alcohol abuse and dependence.
In addition, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was highly associated with restricting and binge/purge anorexia. Schizophrenia was three times more likely to occur in patients with anorexia and two times more likely in patients who were diagnosed with binge/purge anorexia.
The findings show that there is a high level of co-morbidity with all types of eating disorders. While some mental disorders are more highly associated with certain types of eating disorders, it is clear that there is a high general correlation between the occurrence of eating disorders and the co-occurrence of other types of mental disorders.
The study’s findings are important for fully addressing the mental health needs of patients who seek treatment for eating disorders. The information may allow for the development of useful screening tools to be used by clinicians in eating disorder treatment centers.
The findings were published in a recent issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine.