"We knew that [anorexia] is very serious and is associated with high mortality [death rate]," researcher Stephan Zipfel, MD, tells WebMD. But the main message from their research, he says, is that earlier intervention and referral to specialized facilities are crucial to ensure better patient outcomes.
According to Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders Inc. (ANRED), without treatment, up to 20% of people with serious eating disorders die. But with treatment, that number falls to 2-3%. In addition, they say, with treatment about 60% of people with eating disorders recover.
Persons with anorexia nervosa may display many warning signs including refusal to maintain a normal body weight, weighing 85% or less than is expected for age and height, denying the dangers of low weight, and reporting feeling fat even when very thin.
"If I were a parent of a child, or a spouse of an adult with anorexia nervosa, what this report would provide to me is evidence to use for lobbying for longer and better medical care, even in the face of limitations in health care resources," Cheryl L. Rock, PhD, RD, tells WebMD. "This illness may be more rare than something like breast cancer, but the total cost is enormous if not caught early and managed well." Rock is associate professor in the department of family and preventive medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
Zipfel says it's important that treatment of severely ill patients "be handled by an experienced and multidisciplinary treatment team in a specialty center." ANRED recommends that persons with eating disorders "get into treatment and stay there."
- After a 21-year follow-up, researchers studying 77 patients with anorexia nervosa report one in four had a poor outcome. However, about half had recovered fully from the disease.
- Patients with a poor outcome waited longer to get treatment, failed to gain adequate weight while hospitalized, and had severe psychological and social problems.
- Observers note anorexia nervosa is a serious disease with a high death rate if untreated. Family members and doctors should intervene when people show the early signs of the disease, in order to increase chances of successful treatment.