Comparative Study
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Exploring avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder in eating disordered patients: a descriptive study.

OBJECTIVE: To assess and compare clinical characteristics of patients with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) to those with anorexia nervosa (AN).

METHOD: A retrospective review of adolescent eating disorder (ED) patients assessed between 2000 and 2011 that qualified for a diagnosis of ARFID was completed. A matched AN sample was used to compare characteristics between groups.

RESULTS: Two hundred and five patients met inclusion criteria and were reviewed in detail. Of these, 34 (5%) patients met criteria for ARFID. A matched sample of 36 patients with AN was used to draw comparisons. Patients with ARFID were younger than those with AN, more likely to present before age 12, and more likely to be male. Patients in both groups presented at low weights. Common eating-specific behaviors and symptoms in the ARFID group included food avoidance, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, and fear of vomiting. Rates of comorbid psychiatric diagnoses and medical morbidity were high in both groups. Almost 80% of AN patients and one-third of ARFID patients required hospital admission as a result of medical instability. Symptom profiles in 4/34 ARFID patients resulted in eventual reclassification to AN.

DISCUSSION: This study supports the notion that a small percentage of adolescent patients presenting with restrictive eating disorders meet criteria for ARFID. Patients are younger than average, more likely to be male compared to adolescent AN samples, and have high rates of psychiatric and medical morbidity. The study also suggests that a proportion of patients evolve into AN as treatment progresses.

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