Years of disease have a decisive impact on the response to the treatment of eating disorders (ED)

  • A study by IDIBELL and Bellvitge Hospital establishes, for the first time, a temporary criterion for the risk of chronicity of symptoms for the different subtypes of ED.
  • Some 400,000 people, mostly young people and teenagers currently suffer from some type of ED in Spain.
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Overall, 54.3% of patients with ED treated in the Eating Disorders Unit at Bellvitge University Hospital have a complete or substantial recovery from symptoms. Considering the diagnostic subtypes, binge eating disorder and anorexia nervosa are eating disorders that record a higher percentage of total remission after specialized treatment, with 72% and 65%, respectively. In contrast, bulimia nervosa (35 %%) and other atypical EDs (41.5%) are less likely to fully recover, although a significant percentage of these patients show substantial recovery (40% and 33%, respectively), according to a study by the Psychiatry and Mental Health research group of IDIBELL and Bellvitge University Hospital.

The work, which was performed on a sample of 1,200 patients in the unit, also explores the association between the duration of the disorder and the risk of chronic symptoms. In this sense, the findings indicate that in anorexia and bulimia nervosa, more than 12 and 14 years of evolution would increase the risk of chronicity, while for the group of atypical disorders would be 6 to 8 years and for the disorder for binge eating from 20 to 21 years.

For the first time, this study establishes a temporal criterion for the risk of chronicity of symptoms for the different subtypes of ED, extending previous research on this topic. At the same time, it is important to note that a high percentage of patients can recover completely or substantially, if they receive specialized interventions at the right time. Thus, early recognition of symptoms and indicated treatment are core aspects in addressing these disorders.

In the opinion of Dr. Fernando Fernández Aranda, head of the Eating Disorders Unit at Bellvitge Hospital, researcher at IDIBELL and CIBERObn and professor at the UB, one of the main conclusions of the study “is the need to dedicate efforts in early interventions that can improve outcomes, especially in the case of atypical disorders”. He adds that the work emphasizes that another way to improve care for anorexia and bulimia nervosa is to focus on treatments for dysfunctional personality traits of patients with these problems, such as persistence, anxiety, damage avoidance, reward dependence, or self-direction.

The article, signed by Dr. Fernández Aranda as principal investigator, has been published in a special issue of the European Journal of Eating Disorders, which he has coordinated. This special publication aims to carry out a complete review of the efficiency and effectiveness of the treatment of ED in Europe, with health systems with different levels and resources of care. Improve the detection of eating disorders in pediatric age in primary care, outpatient treatments, continuity of care in the transition from childhood to adulthood or the design of new services that take more into account the vision of patients and caregivers, are some of the most relevant aspects assessed in the special issue of the European Eating Disorders Review.



The Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) is a biomedical research center created in 2004. It is participated by the Bellvitge University Hospital and the Viladecans Hospital of the Catalan Institute of Health, the Catalan Institute of Oncology, the University of Barcelona and the City Council of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat.

IDIBELL is a member of the Campus of International Excellence of the University of Barcelona HUBc and is part of the CERCA institution of the Generalitat de Catalunya. In 2009 it became one of the first five Spanish research centers accredited as a health research institute by the Carlos III Health Institute. In addition, it is part of the “HR Excellence in Research” program of the European Union and is a member of EATRIS and REGIC. Since 2018, IDIBELL has been an Accredited Center of the AECC Scientific Foundation (FCAECC).

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