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Family therapy for anorexia nervosa.

BACKGROUND: Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is characterised by distorted body image and deliberately maintained low body weight. The long term prognosis is often poor, with severe medical, developmental and psychosocial complications, high rates of relapse and mortality. Different variants of family therapy have been commonly used for intervention.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the efficacy of family therapy compared with standard treatment and other treatments.

SEARCH STRATEGY: The Cochrane Collaboration Depression, Anxiety and Neuroses Controlled Trials Register (CCDANCTR) was searched until August 2008; MEDLINE, PsycInfo and EMBASE and were searched up to January 2008. A conference abstract book and included studies reference lists were searched. All lead authors of included studies were also contacted.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCTS) of interventions described as 'family therapy' compared to any other intervention or other types of family therapy were eligible for inclusion. Patients of any age or gender with a primary clinical diagnosis of anorexia nervosa (AN) were included.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors selected the studies, assessed quality and extracted data. We used a random effects meta-analysis. Relative risk was used to summarise dichotomous outcomes and both the standardised mean difference and mean difference to summarise continuous measures.

MAIN RESULTS: 13 trials were included, the majority investigating family based therapy, or variants. Reporting of trial conduct was generally inadequate. The full extent of the risk of bias is unclear. There was some evidence (from two studies, 81 participants) to suggest that family therapy may be more effective than treatment as usual on rates of remission, in the short term (RR 3.83 95% CI 1.60 to 9.13). Based on one study (30 participants) there was no significant advantage for family therapy over educational interventions (RR 9.00 95% CI 0.53, 153.79) or over other psychological interventions (RR 1.13 95% CI 0.72 to 1.76) based on four studies (N=149).All other reported comparisons for relapse rates, cognitive distortion, weight measures and dropouts yielded non-significant results.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is some evidence to suggest that family therapy may be effective compared to treatment as usual in the short term. However, this is based on few trials that included only a small number of participants, all of which had issues regarding potential bias. There appears to be little advantage of family therapy over other psychological interventions. The field would benefit from a large, well-conducted trial.

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