A new study has proclaimed a new form of psychotherapy has the potential to disable more than eight out of ten cases of adult eating disorders.
This new "enhanced" form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT-E), developed by researchers at Wellcome Trust, builds on and improves the current leading treatment for bulimia nervosa as recommended by the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
CBT-E is the first treatment to be shown to be suitable for the majority of cases of eating disorders.
According to NICE, eating disorders are a major cause of physical and psychosocial impairment in young women, affecting at least one in twenty women between the ages of 18 and 30. They also occur in young men but are less common.
Three eating disorders are recognized: anorexia nervosa, which accounts for around one in ten cases in adults; bulimia nervosa, which accounts for a third of all cases; and the remainder are classed as "atypical eating disorders, which account for over half of all cases. In these atypical cases the features of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are combined in a different way.
The three eating disorders vary in their severity, but typically involve extreme and relentless dieting, self-induced vomiting or laxative misuse, binge eating, driven exercising and in some cases marked weight loss. Common associated features are depression, social withdrawal, perfectionism and low self-esteem.
The disorders tend to run a chronic course and are notoriously difficult to treat. Relapse is common.
This new treatment derives from an earlier form of CBT that was designed exclusively for patients with bulimia nervosa. Both were developed by Professor Christopher Fairburn, a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellow at the University of Oxford.
In 2004, the earlier treatment became the first psychotherapy to be recognized by NICE as the leading treatment for a clinical condition and its use was recommended across the NHS.
Now, in a new study, Professor Fairburn and colleagues have shown that the enhanced version of the treatment is not only more potent than the earlier NICE-recommended treatment, but it can also be used to treat both bulimia nervosa and the atypical eating disorders, making it suitable for over 80 percent of cases of eating disorders.
"Eating disorders are serious mental health problems and can be very distressing for both patients and their families. Now for the first time, we have a single treatment which can be effective at treating the majority of cases without the need for patients to be admitted into hospital," said Professor Fairburn.
The study is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.