Bulimia nervosa in adolescents: a disorder in evolution?

Daniel le Grange, Katharine L Loeb, Sarah Van Orman, Courtney C Jellar
Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 2004, 158 (5): 478-82

BACKGROUND: There are few reports that describe the manifestation of bulimia nervosa (BN) among adolescents. Moreover, none make reference to the comparative clinical manifestation of adolescent BN and adolescent anorexia nervosa. Nor are any reports available of how distinct partial-syndrome BN cases are from those that meet full diagnostic criteria for BN.

OBJECTIVES: To describe 3 groups of adolescents, those with a full-syndrome eating disorder (BN and anorexia nervosa) or partial-syndrome BN, and to compare these groups along demographic, general psychopathology, and eating disorder variables.

DESIGN: The study population included 120 adolescents with eating disorders who were initially seen at The University of Chicago Eating Disorders Program, Chicago, Ill, for treatment. All participants completed an assessment prior to treatment.

MEASURES: Weight and height were obtained from all participants. Participants also completed a baseline demographic questionnaire (eg, menstrual status, ethnicity, family status), Beck Depression Inventory, Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, and the Eating Disorder Examination.

RESULTS: Partial-syndrome BN cases are clinically quite similar to their full-syndrome counterparts. Only objective binge eating episodes and purge frequency distinguished BN and partial-syndrome BN cases. Anorexia nervosa cases, on the other hand, were quite distinct from BN and partial-syndrome BN cases on almost all variables.

CONCLUSION: Early recognition and swift treatment of eating disorders in adolescents, regardless of whether a diagnostic threshold is met, are imperative because they will lead to early intervention thereby potentially improving eating disorder recovery rates.

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