Individual psychotherapy in the outpatient treatment of adults with anorexia nervosa

P Hay, J Bacaltchuk, A Claudino, D Ben-Tovim, P Y Yong
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2003, (4): CD003909

BACKGROUND: Anorexia nervosa is a disorder of high morbidity and significant mortality. It is commonest in young adult women, in whom the incidence may be increasing. The focus of treatment has moved to an outpatient setting and a number of differing psychotherapies are presently used in treatment.

OBJECTIVES: The aim of the present review was to evaluate the evidence from randomised controlled trials for the efficacy of outpatient psychotherapies used in the treatment of older adolescents and adults with anorexia nervosa

SEARCH STRATEGY: The strategy comprised database searches of MEDLINE, EXTRAMED, EMBASE,PSYCLIT, CURRENT CONTENTS, Cochrane Collaboration Controlled Trials Register and the Depression and Anxiety Neuroses Cochrane Group (CCDAN), a hand-search of The International Journal of Eating Disorders, and he reference lists of all papers selected. Personal letters were sent to identified notable researchers published in the area, requesting information on trials that are unpublished or in progress.

SELECTION CRITERIA: All randomised controlled trials of adult individual outpatient therapy for anorexia nervosa as defined by the DSM-IV or similar international criterion. Quality ratings were made according to the CCDAN criteria and in addition, whether the trial had examined treatment integrity.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: A range of outcome variables were selected, including physical state, severity of eating disorder attitudes and beliefs, interpersonal function, and general psychiatric symptom severity. Continuous outcome data comparisons were made with the standardized mean difference statistic, and binary outcome comparisons made with the relative risk statistic. Reliability of data extraction and quality ratings were made with the kappa statistic. Sensitivity analyses to evaluate the effects of trial quality and subgroup analyses to explore specific questions of treatment effects from different settings, frequency and duration of therapies were planned.

MAIN RESULTS: Six small trials only, two of which included children or adolescents, were identified from the search and aggregation of data was not possible. Bias was possible due particularly to lack of blinding of outcome assessments. The results in two trials suggested that 'treatment as usual' or similar may be less efficacious than a specific psychotherapy. No specific treatment was consistently superior to any other specific approach. Dietary advice as a control arm had a 100% non-completion rate in one trial.

REVIEWER'S CONCLUSIONS: No specific approach can be recommended from this review. It is unclear why 'treatment as usual' performed so poorly or why dietary advice alone appeared so unacceptable as the reasons for non-completion were not reported. There is an urgent need for large well-designed trials in his area.

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