Eating Disorder Relapse: Rates and Risk Factors

Girl sitting on a fence

Eating disorder relapse is common. Authors of a 2017 report in the Journal of Eating Disorders analyzed the results of 27 studies concerned with relapse among patients with anorexia nervosa. They found that most of the studies showed that over 25 percent of patients with anorexia relapsed.

Rates of relapse are similar among those with bulimia nervosa. In a 2015 study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, 27.6 percent of patients with bulimia relapsed within six months of completing treatment.

Based on the research, it appears that eating disorder relapse is a potential outcome among patients with both anorexia and bulimia. However, there are certain factors that can increase the risk of eating disorder relapse.

Eating Disorder Relapse in Patients with Bulimia 

Various factors can increase the risk of eating disorder relapse in patients with bulimia. The 2015 study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found that relapse was more likely among those who binged and vomited more often before entering treatment. Patients were also more likely to relapse if they engaged in less body avoidance prior to treatment entry.

Anorexia Nervosa Relapse Risk Factors 

Different factors are associated with relapse in anorexia. Results of a 2016 study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that patients with anorexia were more likely to relapse in the year following discharge from inpatient treatment when they had a lower body mass index upon discharge. A second study in a 2012 publication of Psychiatry Research found that eating disorder relapse was more likely among patients diagnosed with the binge-purge subtype of anorexia as well as in patients who engaged in more severe body-checking prior to treatment.

Preventing Eating Disorder Relapse

The research shows that eating disorder relapse rates are statistically high and that certain factors can increase relapse risk. Patients should engage in relapse prevention programs to reduce their chances and those with certain risk factors might require more intensive treatment or longer stays in inpatient treatment. It is important to be mindful of relapse risk factors when making decisions about eating disorder treatment.

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