The clinical significance of amenorrhea as a diagnostic criterion for anorexia nervosa

Christina A Roberto, Joanna Steinglass, Laurel E S Mayer, Evelyn Attia, B Timothy Walsh
International Journal of Eating Disorders 2008, 41 (6): 559-63

OBJECTIVE: Amenorrhea is a DSM-IV criterion for the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (AN). Several studies have reported few differences between patients who meet the full DSM-IV criteria for AN and those who meet all but the amenorrhea criterion. Although this suggests that the absence of menses does not provide critical diagnostic information, many of these studies are limited by small sample sizes. This study aims to examine the clinical utility of amenorrhea as a criterion for the diagnosis of AN.

METHOD: A chart review was conducted of 240 consecutive patients admitted for inpatient treatment at the NY State Psychiatric Institute from 1993 to 2006. Menstrual data were collected from the Eating Disorder Examination conducted upon admission. Independent samples t-tests were performed to evaluate differences in clinical variables, including age, lifetime lowest body mass index (BMI), admission and discharge BMI, previous number of hospitalizations, duration of illness, Beck Depression Inventory total score, Beck Anxiety Inventory total score, and Eating Disorder Examination subscale scores.

RESULTS: The amenorrheic and menstruating groups differed significantly only on lowest lifetime BMI and admission BMI, with individuals with amenorrhea having lower BMIs on both measures.

CONCLUSION: These results indicate that amenorrhea does not distinguish between groups on a number of important measures of clinical severity. It may be that amenorrhea reflects weight and nutritional status, rather than providing useful diagnostic information. Future studies are needed to examine the potential prognostic value of menstrual status.

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