Anorexia Nervosa

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Eating Disorders Slideshow Pictures

Quick GuideEating Disorders Pictures Slideshow: Understanding Binge Eating, Anorexia and Bulimia

Eating Disorders Pictures Slideshow: Understanding Binge Eating, Anorexia and Bulimia

What is the prognosis (outcome) of anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia is among the psychiatric conditions that have the highest mortality rate, with an estimated mortality (death) rate of up to 6% due to the numerous complications of the disease. The most common causes of death in people with anorexia are medical complications of the condition, including cardiac arrest and electrolyte imbalances. Suicide is also a cause of death in people with anorexia. In the absence of any coexisting personality disorder, younger individuals with anorexia tend to do better over time than their older counterparts.

Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the overall prognosis in an individual with anorexia. Despite most psychiatric medications having little effect on the symptoms that are specific to anorexia, the improvement in associated symptoms (for example, anxiety and depression) can help anorexia sufferers engage more actively in treatment and otherwise have a powerful, positive effect on the improvement that individuals with anorexia show over time. With appropriate treatment, about half of those affected will make a full recovery. Some people experience a fluctuating pattern of periods of weight gain followed by relapses, while others experience a progressively deteriorating course of the illness over many years, and still others never fully recover. It is estimated that about 20% of people with anorexia remain chronically ill from the condition.

As with many other mental-health illnesses with addictive symptoms, it takes a day-to-day effort to control the urge to relapse. Many individuals will require ongoing treatment for anorexia over several years, and some may require treatment over their entire lifetime. Factors that seem to predict more difficult recovery from anorexia include vomiting and other purging behaviors, bulimia nervosa, and symptoms of obsessive personality disorder. The longer the disease goes on, the more difficult it is to treat as well.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/8/2016
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