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Am J Psychiatry. 1997 Mar;154(3):313-21.

Outcome in bulimia nervosa.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455, USA.



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.


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.


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.


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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