Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in adolescence: effects of age and menstrual status on psychological variables

D M Heebink, S R Sunday, K A Halmi
Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 1995, 34 (3): 378-82

OBJECTIVE: To compare, in adolescents and adults with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, eating disorder symptomatology and comorbid affective and anxiety states.

METHOD: Two hundred fifty consecutive, female inpatients on an eating disorders unit were studied. They were given the Beck Depression Inventory; the Depression, Obsessive-Compulsive, Anxiety, and Phobic Anxiety scales from the Symptom Checklist 90; and the Eating Disorder Inventory. Patients were divided into categories based on age, diagnosis, and menstrual status.

RESULTS: Onset of anorexia nervosa before age 14 and primary amenorrhea were associated with the greatest maturity fears during acute illness. For patients with restricting anorexia, adolescents aged 17 through 19 years had the highest drive for thinness compared to adolescents aged 13 through 16 years and adults. The lowest levels of depression and anxiety were seen in patients younger than age 14 with restricting anorexia.

CONCLUSION: Overall, few psychological differences between adults and adolescents with eating disorders were found, with the exceptions of the youngest restricting anorectic patients at the time of treatment and both restricting and bulimic-anorectic patients who had a very early onset of their illness. Younger patients with acute anorexia nervosa may not require pharmacotherapy for anxiety and depression and may benefit from a focus on maturity fears in psychotherapy.

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