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The multimodal treatment of eating disorders
KATHERINE A. HALMI
Eating Disorder Program, Weill Medical College of Cornell University, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Westchester Division, White Plains, NY 10605, USA
The treatment of eating disorders is based on a multimodal model, recognizing that these disorders do not have a single cause or a pre-dictable course. The treatment strategy is determined by the severity of illness and the specific eating disorder diagnosis. For the treatmentof anorexia nervosa, the key elements are medical management, behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy and family therapy, while phar-macotherapy is at best an adjunct to other therapies. In bulimia nervosa, the treatment of choice is cognitive-behavioral therapy, but agreater improvement in mood and anxiety occurs when antidepressant therapy is added. In binge eating disorder, cognitive-behavioraltherapy and interpersonal therapy produce substantial and long-lasting changes and pharmacological treatment has often a useful role.
Eating disorders, multimodal treatment, cognitive-behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy, nutritional rehabilitation
The treatment of eating disorders is based on a multi-
one is at a greater risk for developing an eating disorder.
modal model. This model recognizes that eating disorders
Individual biological factors include being mildly over-
do not have a single cause or a predictable course. They
begin with dieting or restrained eating behavior. Often the
Genetic studies have shown a significant linkage on
dieting is for the purpose of becoming thinner and more
chromosome 1 for restricting anorexia nervosa (3) and a
attractive, or it may follow a severe stress or physical ill-
significant linkage on chromosome 10 for bulimia nervosa
ness. Behaviors and influences antecedent to the dieting
(4). There have been no consistent and replicated findings
experience can be categorized as problems of biological
for polymorphisms of specific genes with association stud-
vulnerability, psychological predispositions, family distur-
ies. Possible genetic vulnerabilities include a predisposi-
bances, and environmental-societal influences. The inte-
tion to a particular personality type, predisposition to a
grated effect of these disturbances on dieting behavior pro-
psychiatric disorder (affective or anxiety disorders) or pre-
pels the individual person into developing an eating disor-
disposition to neurotransmitter dysfunction. Thus, a ge-
der. As the dieting continues, starvation effects, weight
netic predisposition and vulnerability may become manifest
loss, nutritional effects, and psychological changes occur.
under adverse conditions such as inappropriate dieting
A sustaining cycle of core dysfunctional eating behaviors
develops with both psychological and physiological rein-
Biological vulnerability can include dysfunction of neu-
rotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepi-
For the anorexia nervosa patient, psychological rein-
nephrine that regulate eating behavior. Studies have shown
forcement occurs as the patient develops a sense of securi-
that all three of these neurotransmitters are dysfunctional
ty and effectiveness while she realizes that dieting and los-
in eating disorder patients (5-7). Aberrations of neuropep-
ing weight is something she can control very well with
tides regulating eating behavior are also present in eating
consummate skill. Physiological changes in the dopamin-
disorders. Such changes are present in neuropeptide Y, opi-
ergic, serotonergic and opioid neurotransmitter systems
oids, leptin, cholecystokinin, ghrelin, melanocortins, adipo-
most likely aid in reinforcing the starvation behavior.
nectin, agouti-related protein, and brain derived neuro-
For bulimia nervosa, the psychological reinforcement
comes about when the patient realizes that binge eating
Signals from the periphery, including gut-related pep-
can alleviate anxiety in a manner similar to alcohol or
tides and adipokines, interact with hypothalamic peptides
drugs. During the process of self-induced purging, do-
in the regulation of feeding behavior and body weight.
pamine is released in the brain and likely contributes to
State related changes in nutrition and body weight influ-
the physiological reinforcement of the binge/purge behav-
ence cerebrospinal fluid and plasma levels and receptor
Individual psychological risk factors include a perfec-
tionistic-obsessional personality, which is a risk especially
for the restricting type of anorexia nervosa (10). Low self-
There are several different categories of risk factors for
esteem and a sense of ineffectiveness, lack of confidence
developing eating disorders. Familial risk factors have
and a feeling of inadequacy are risk factors for anorexia
been demonstrated with family studies. If one has a family
nervosa and bulimia nervosa (11). Affective disorders
member or relative with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa
(depression), alcohol and drug abuse are risk factors espe-
or obesity, then one has a greater chance of developing an
eating disorder (1). Also, if one has a family member or rel-
Individual behavior such as dieting or involvement in
ative with depression or alcohol/drug abuse/dependence,
activities or professions that emphasize weight control –
such as gymnastics, ballet, wrestling, jockeys, actors and
hasten weight gain without deleterious effects. Supple-
models – are additional risk factors (13).
mental nocturnal nasal gastric refeeding has been used for
In addition to the biological and psychological risk fac-
better short-term outcome in hospitalized adolescent girls
tors, there is the influence of social climate. This includes
with anorexia nervosa. Other centers have used voluntary
cultural risk factors such as living in an industrialized
nasal gastric tube feeding and have taught patients how to
country, emphasis on thinness as being beautiful, and in
insert their own tube. Adequate controlled trials have not
the U.S. a significant general weight increase over the past
been conducted for this type of intervention.
40 years (14). Stressful life events, such as death of a close
For individual psychosocial interventions, there contin-
relative or friend or sexual and physical abuse, can also be
ues to be difficulty in recruiting and retaining patients. At
risk factors for the development of an eating disorder (15).
least a one-third dropout rate or withdrawal due to relapsecomplicate the interpretation of randomized controlledtrials (21). There is some indication that cognitive-behav-
ioral therapy following weight gain may reduce the risk of
Both the severity of illness and the specific diagnosis
will determine the treatment strategy for an eating disor-
Family therapy is the most effective treatment for adoles-
der. Guidelines have been developed for the treatment of
cents with anorexia nervosa and seems to be equally effec-
different degrees of severity of illness and are established
tive when administered as conjoint or as separated family
from hospitalization to day programs to intensive outpa-
therapy (23). Overall, 6 months of therapy also seems to be
tient therapy to group therapy (16). There are no random-
as effective as 12 months; however, patients with severe
ized controlled trials that adequately assess the intensity of
obsessive-compulsive disorder may require longer treat-
treatment. The major categories of eating disorders are
ment (24). There is little formal study of the efficacy of
anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disor-
group psychotherapy for the treatment of anorexia nervosa
der. Variations of these disorders are treated similarly to
or the usefulness of support groups for this disorder.
the major diagnostic category which they approximate.
Two core assumptions are made about anorexia nervosa
There are three reviews of new treatment research in eat-
in cognitive therapy. First, food avoidance, necessary to
ing disorders with critical analyses. These include the
maintain a low weight, is essentially a food phobia. Sec-
Cochrane reviews (17), the Australian and New Zealand
ond, anorexia nervosa serves a positive function: it pro-
practice guidelines for the treatment of anorexia nervosa (18)
vides an escape from aversive developmental issues and
and the guidelines for treatment of eating disorders by the
distressing life events often of an interpersonal nature.
National Institute for Clinical Excellence in London (19).
One element in cognitive therapy is cognitive restructur-
ing. In this approach the patient must identify specific nega-tive thoughts, list the evidence for these thoughts, list the
Treatment of anorexia nervosa
evidence against the thoughts, form a reasoned conclusion
For treatment of anorexia nervosa, the key elements are
and use the reasoned conclusion to guide her behavior.
medical management, behavioral therapy, cognitive thera-
Another element in cognitive therapy is problem-solving. In
py and family therapy. Pharmacotherapy is at best an
this procedure the patient identifies a specific problem,
adjunct to the other therapies in this disorder. Nutritional
develops different strategies, considers the likely effective-
rehabilitation and weight restoration are essential. Behav-
ness and feasibility of each strategy to deal with the problem,
ioral therapy is useful in managing weight gain and pre-
selects the best strategy, defines the steps to carry out the
vention of binge eating and purging. Cognitive therapy
strategy, carries out the chosen strategy and then evaluates
addresses the distorted cognitions of feeling fat, evaluating
the entire problem-solving process in light of the outcome.
self-worth solely by body image and the pervasive sense of
Another essential element in cognitive therapy is monitor-
ineffectiveness and inadequacy. Family therapy is especial-
ing. For this the patients must make daily records of food
ly effective for children under the age of 18. Fluoxetine
intake, including the type of food ingested, the time of inges-
may prevent relapse in patients who have obtained at least
tion and the environment where the ingestion occurred.
85% of a normal weight. Atypical antipsychotics may be
Monitoring also includes daily records of binge/purge
useful in reducing severe anxiety and augmenting weight
behavior, exercise, mood and interpersonal difficulties (25).
Pharmacotherapy of anorexia nervosa is limited. Cypro-
Nutritional rehabilitation programs usually employ
heptadine facilitates weight gain in restrictive anorexia
emotional nurturance and a variety of behavioral interven-
nervosa and has an antidepressant effect. Chlorpromazine
tions, which involve a combination of reinforcers that link
or olanzapine may reduce severely obsessional, compul-
exercise, bed rest, and privileges to target weight, desired
sive and agitated behavior; a side effect is weight gain. Flu-
behaviors and informational feedback. There are no ran-
oxetine may reduce relapse of weight and eating disorder
domized controlled trials to demonstrate the superiority of
nasal gastric tube feeding over oral feeding in nutritional
There are few new randomized controlled trials of phar-
rehabilitation. Advocates claim that such intervention may
macotherapy for anorexia nervosa. These trials have
shown fluoxetine in a dose of 60 mg/day adds no benefit
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the first choice treat-
to inpatient treatment of underweight anorexia nervosa
ment for bulimia nervosa. It was the most effective treat-
patients. Another trial of 35 anorexia nervosa patients that
ment in 35 controlled studies, which showed 40 to 50% of
were partially weight restored showed some indication
patients abstinent from bingeing and purging at the end of
that fluoxetine during weight maintenance may decrease
treatment (16-20 weeks). Reduction in bingeing and purg-
the relapse rate (26). A third trial, which compared three
ing occurred in 70 to 95% of patients. Thirty percent with
drugs, clomipramine, fluoxetine and amisulpride, in inpa-
no improvement post-treatment showed improvement to
tients showed that amisulpride had the best effect on
full recovery one year after treatment (29).
There is some evidence that treatment programs which
From the recent promising pilot studies of pharma-
include dietary counseling and managing are more effective
cotherapy in anorexia nervosa we can conclude that
than those that do not. The nutritional rehabilitation in
antipsychotic medications such as olanzapine and queti-
bulimia nervosa involves establishing patterns of regular,
apine may be helpful during the weight restoration phase.
non-binge meals. Increasing caloric intake and expanding
Citalopram may reduce depression and anxiety during
macronutrient selection in meals is also important. This
weight restoration. Fluoxetine is not beneficial in weight
will likely correct any nutritional deficiencies that may be
restoration but may decrease relapse rate in anorexia ner-
vosa patients. Nutritional supplements with L-tryptophan
Another psychotherapy shown to have some effect in
do not increase effectiveness of fluoxetine (28).
treating bulimia nervosa is interpersonal therapy. Focus
There are many problems with these treatment studies
psychodynamic psychotherapy was not as effective as cog-
of anorexia nervosa. First, there are very few randomized
nitive-behavioral therapy in short term trials. Behavior
controlled trials. Second, patients are not motivated for
therapy with exposure and response prevention had no
treatment. This is evident in that patients do not enter tri-
additive benefits over cognitive-behavioral therapy. A
als and dropout rates are high. Third, medical complica-
meta-analysis of 40 group psychotherapy treatment studies
tions often require withdrawal from trials. Fourth, very
suggested moderate efficacy. Groups that included dietary
small sample sizes are present in completed trials.
counseling were more effective, as were groups with morefrequent visits during treatment. Many clinicians favor acombination of individual and group therapy in the treat-
Treatment of bulimia nervosa
The treatment of bulimia nervosa has several key ele-
There are no randomized controlled trials of family
ments. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can be con-
therapy in the treatment of bulimia nervosa: it may be con-
ducted as individual or in group format, has a psychoedu-
sidered for adolescents. Self-help manuals and guided self-
cational component and requires self-monitoring. Other
help manuals use cognitive-behavioral techniques: there
techniques are cognitive restructuring, problem-solving
are limited trials with varying results; more development of
and cost benefit analyses. Behavioral therapy in the treat-
these self-help manuals and larger studies are needed.
ment of bulimia nervosa is usually in conjunction with cog-
Dialectical behavioral therapy focuses on training in emo-
nitive therapy. In this form of treatment, restricting expo-
tional regulation skills: one study showed significant
sures to cues is common as well as developing alternative
improvement compared to a waiting list (31).
behaviors with response prevention techniques to stop
A summary of pharmacotherapy in bulimia nervosa
vomiting. Interpersonal therapy focuses on interpersonal
concludes that all antidepressants are better than placebo
relationships and classifies the type of interpersonal prob-
for reducing binge eating. Over a dozen double-blind
lem. Pharmacotherapy has shown best results with se-
placebo controlled trials of antidepressants have been
lective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs, which reduce
conducted with a dosage similar to the treatment of
binger/purge behavior. These are preferred because of the
depression. Medications improved mood and preoccupa-
lower side effect profile. Tricyclic antidepressants also
tion with shape and weight in about 20% of patients.
reduce binge/purge behavior but have greater side effects.
Complete abstinence from bingeing and purging, however,
In contrast to anorexia nervosa, treatment studies of
occurred in only 20 to 30%. Some medications that have
bulimia nervosa have proliferated in the past 15 years.
been effective in reducing binge frequency should not be
Controlled studies of specific therapy techniques such as
used in treating bulimics because of their side effects.
behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy, psychodynamic
Bupropion has been associated with convulsions in bulim-
therapy and psychoeducation therapy have been conduct-
ic patients. Trazodone has been associated with producing
ed in both individual and group therapy format. Multiple
delirium in a few bulimic patients. The monoamine oxi-
controlled drug treatment studies have also been conduct-
dase inhibitors can cause hypertensive crises if bulimic
ed. Often a variety of therapy techniques are used together
patients do not follow the required restricted diet (32).
in either individual or group therapies. There is no way at
Fluoxetine in a dose of 60 mg/day is the drug of first
present to predict which bulimic patient will respond to
choice because of beneficial effects and a favorable side
effect profile. If the first trial is unsuccessful there is evi-
dence that another antidepressant trial may be effective.
are associated with weight loss in the treatment of binge
Minimal duration of successful treatment should be 6
eating disorder. Other drugs shown superior to placebo for
months. Baseline laboratory assessments such as cell
binge eating disorder are phenytoin and topiramate. There
blood count, serum electrolytes, liver function tests, blood
is one positive open study for zonisamide. Pharmacological
urea nitrogen/creatinine ratio, thyroid function and elec-
treatment should be considered as an option in all cases of
binge eating disorder, not just those with concomitant
Ondansetron, a 5HT3 antagonist, decreases afferent
mood disorders. It should be considered strongly in those
vagal activity and has been shown to have a mild effect on
who fail to respond to psychological treatment. One should
reducing binge/purge behaviors in bulimic patients. How-
consider trials of topiramate, a selective serotonin reuptake
ever this drug has serious side effects of constipation,
inhibitor, sibutramine, venlafaxine, bupropion (no purging
headaches and abdominal pain. Topiramate has been
or history of bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa) and zoni-
shown to effectively reduce binge/purge behavior in a
samide. Be prepared if necessary to conduct a minimum of
double-blind placebo-controlled trial in bulimia nervosa
three trials to obtain an optimal response. Choose medica-
patients: this medication must be initiated in a very low
tion based on patient comorbidity and preference in side
dose of 25 mg/day and gradually increased with a maxi-
effect profile. Use doses similar to those for approved indi-
mum of 400 mg/day. A slow increase of dosage will help
cations. Treat for a duration similar to that for bulimia ner-
prevent side effects of fatigue, paresthesia, difficulty con-
vosa or major depressive disorder: for example, 6 to 12
centrating, and influenza-like symptoms. The opiate
months at a level of substantial improvement before
antagonist naltrexone, in a dose of 200-300 mg/day, has
attempting discontinuation of the drug. In some cases treat-
been shown to reduce binge/purge behavior. However,
ment may need to be continued indefinitely (36).
there is a concern of liver toxicity at this dosage (33).
Three randomized controlled studies comparing cogni-
tive-behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy showedthat the combination was superior to medication alone.
In conclusion, the treatment of eating disorders is based
One study showed that the combination was superior to
on a multimodal approach. Patients need to be treated
cognitive-behavioral therapy alone, while the other two
with a multidisciplinary team, including a psychiatrist for
pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy, a nutritionist for
In conclusion, the treatment of bulimia nervosa can be
nutritional education and meal planning, an internist or
summarized by stating that binge eating, purging, and core
pediatrician for medical care and a family therapist for
eating disorder attitudes respond best to cognitive-behav-
ioral therapy. A greater improvement in mood and anxiety
For the treatment of anorexia nervosa, the key elements
occurred when antidepressant therapy was added.
are medical management, behavioral therapy, cognitivetherapy and family therapy, while pharmacotherapy is atbest an adjunct to other therapies. In bulimia nervosa, the
Treatment of binge eating disorder
treatment of choice is cognitive-behavioral therapy, but a
Binge eating disorder is still considered in the category
greater improvement in mood and anxiety occurs when
of eating disorders not otherwise specified. This disorder is
antidepressant therapy is added. In binge eating disorder,
distinguished from bulimia nervosa by a lack of compen-
cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy
satory behaviors to counteract the caloric intake and
produce substantial and long-lasting changes and pharma-
weight gain from binge eating episodes. These patients do
cological treatment has often a useful role.
not purge, exercise or engage in dieting. Randomized con-trolled treatment trials have used the same techniques asthose for bulimia nervosa. Patients with binge eating dis-
order have responded well to cognitive behavioral therapy
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Fabrikant/Leverancier Toepassing (= indicaties) o.a. anesthesie), voorkómen (= preventie) en/of bestrijden van pijn door plaatselijke verdoving in de tandheelkunde Algemeen Lees ook de bijsluiter voor informatie over de toepassing van dit medicijn. Niet gebruiken bij (= contra-indicaties) o.a. Bloeddrukverhoging (= hypertensie), alleen indien de injectievloeistof epinefr
Zusammenfassung der Merkmale des Arzneimittels (SPC)Pseudoephedrin kann verstärken/erhöhen:– die Wirkungen von Salbutamol Tabletten– Überempfindlichkeit gegen andere Ent-(Exazerbation kardiovaskulärer Nebenwir-– Hyperthyreose, leichte bis mäßige Hyper-– die Wirkungen von Antidepressiva ein-1 Beutel enthält Acetylsalicylsäure 500 mg– die Wirkungen anderer Sympathomimeti-