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Outcome in bulimia nervosa
Am J Psychiatry 1997;154:313-321.
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OBJECTIVE: The authors sought to synthesize existing data on outcome for individuals diagnosed with bulimia nervosa in order to better understand long-term outcome and prognostic factors. METHOD: They reviewed 88 studies that conducted follow-up assessments with bulimic subjects at least 6 months after presentation. Findings are summarized for the areas of mortality, recovery, relapse, crossover, and prognostic variables. RESULTS: The crude mortality rate due to all causes of death for subjects with bulimia nervosa in these studies was 0.3% (seven deaths among 2,194 subjects); however, ascertainment rates and follow-up periods were small and likely to produce underestimation. Five to 10 years following presentation, approximately 50% of women initially diagnosed with bulimia nervosa had fully recovered from their disorder, while nearly 20% continued to meet full criteria for bulimia nervosa. Approximately 30% of women experienced relapse into bulimic symptoms, and risk of relapse appeared to decline 4 years after presentation. Few prognostic factors have been consistently identified, but personality traits, such as impulsivity, may contribute to poorer outcome. In addition, participation in a treatment outcome study was associated with improved outcome for follow-up periods less than 5 years. CONCLUSIONS: Treatment interventions may speed eventual recovery but do not appear to alter outcome more than 5 years following presentation. Long-term outcome for women diagnosed with bulimia nervosa remains unclear. However, this disorder may be chronic for at least a subset of women.

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