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Int J Eat Disord. 1995 Apr;17(3):291-7.

Premorbid onset of psychopathology in long-term recovered anorexia nervosa.

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  • 1Center for Overcoming Problem Eating, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


It is recognized that patients with anorexia nervosa commonly have other psychiatric illnesses. No study, to our knowledge, has determined whether these other psychiatric disorders occur prior to the age of onset of anorexia nervosa. We obtained a retrospective history from 24 subjects who were long term (more than 1 year) recovered from anorexia nervosa. We found that 58% reported that they had the onset of one or more childhood anxiety disorder diagnoses at the age of 10 +/- 5 years old. This was 5 years before the mean age of onset of anorexia nervosa. The onset of depression was about 1 year before the onset of anorexia nervosa in about one half the subjects. Alcohol and substance abuse/dependency tended to occur after the onset of anorexia nervosa and only occurred in anorexic subjects who binged and/or purged. The early and common onset of childhood anxiety disorders in a substantial percentage of anorexics raises the possibility that childhood anxiety disorders herald the first behavioral expression of a biologic vulnerability in some subjects who develop anorexia nervosa.

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