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Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Plain Language Summaries [Internet]. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2003-. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004365.pub2

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Plain Language Summaries [Internet].

Antidepressants for anorexia nervosa

First published: January 25, 2006.

Link to full article: [Cochrane Library]

Plain language summary

The aim of the present review was to evaluate the evidence from randomised controlled trials for the efficacy and acceptability of antidepressant treatment in acute AN. Seven small studies were identified; four placebo‐controlled trials did not find evidence of efficacy of antidepressants in improving weight gain, eating disorder or associated symptoms, as well as differences in completion rates. Meta‐analysis of data was not possible for most outcomes. However, major methodological limitations of these studies (e.g. insufficient power to detect differences) prevent from drawing definite conclusions or recommendations for antidepressant use in acute AN. Further studies testing safer antidepressants in larger and well designed trials are needed to guide clinical practice.


Background: Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is an illness characterised by extreme concern about body weight and shape, severe self‐imposed weight loss, and endocrine dysfunction. In spite of its high mortality, morbidity and chronicity, there are few intervention studies on the subject.

Objectives: The aim of this review was to evaluate the efficacy and acceptability of antidepressant drugs in the treatment of acute AN.

Search methods: The strategy comprised of database searches of the Cochrane Collaboration Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Controlled Trials Register, MEDLINE (1966 to April 28th, 2005), EMBASE (1980 to week 36, 2004), PsycINFO (1969 to August week 5, 2004), handsearching the International Journal of Eating Disorders and searching the reference lists of all papers selected. Personal letters were sent to researchers in the field requesting information on unpublished or in‐progress trials.

Selection criteria: All randomised controlled trials of antidepressant treatment for AN patients, as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, fourth edition (DSM‐IV) or similar international criteria, were selected.

Data collection and analysis: Quality ratings were made giving consideration to the strong relationship between allocation concealment and potential for bias in the results; studies meeting criteria A and B were included. Trials were excluded if non‐completion rates were above 50%. The standardised mean difference and relative risk were used for continuous data and dichotomous data comparisons, respectively. Whenever possible, analyses were performed according to intention to treat principles. Heterogeneity was tested with the I‐squared statistic. Weight change was the primary outcome. Secondary outcomes were severity of eating disorder, depression and anxiety symptoms, and global clinical state. Acceptability of treatment was evaluated by considering non‐completion rates.

Main results: Only seven studies were included. Major methodological limitations such as small trial size and large confidence intervals decreased the power of the studies to detect differences between treatments, and meta‐analysis of data was not possible for the majority of outcomes. Four placebo‐controlled trials did not find evidence that antidepressants improved weight gain, eating disorder or associated psychopathology. Isolated findings, favouring amineptine and nortriptyline, emerged from the antidepressant versus antidepressant comparisons, but cannot be conceived as evidence of efficacy of a specific drug or class of antidepressant in light of the findings from the placebo comparisons. Non‐completion rates were similar between the compared groups.

Authors' conclusions: A lack of quality information precludes us from drawing definite conclusions or recommendations on the use of antidepressants in acute AN. Future studies testing safer and more tolerable antidepressants in larger, well designed trials are needed to provide guidance for clinical practice.

Editorial Group: Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Group.

Publication status: Edited (no change to conclusions).

Citation: Claudino AM, Silva de Lima M, Hay PPJ, Bacaltchuk J, Schmidt UUS, Treasure J. Antidepressants for anorexia nervosa. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2006, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD004365. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004365.pub2. Link to Cochrane Library. [PubMed: 16437485]

Copyright © 2010 The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

PMID: 16437485


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