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Open Access Review

Perplexities of treatment resistence in eating disorders

Katherine A Halmi

Author Affiliations

New York Presbyterian Hospital, Westchester Division, 21 Bloomingdale Rd, Whites Plains, NY 10605, USA

BMC Psychiatry 2013, 13:292  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-13-292

Published: 7 November 2013

Abstract

Background

Treatment resistance is an omnipresent frustration in eating disorders. Attempts to identify the features of this resistance and subsequently develop novel treatments have had modest effects. This selective review examines treatment resistant features expressed in core eating disorder psychopathology, comorbidities and biological features. Novel treatments addressing resistance are discussed.

Description

The core eating disorder psychopathology of anorexia nervosa becomes a coping mechanism likely via vulnerable neurobiological features and conditioned learning to deal with life events. Thus it is reinforcing and ego syntonic resulting in resistance to treatment. The severity of core features such as preoccupations with body image, weight, eating and exercising predicts greater resistance to treatment. Bulimia nervosa patients are less resistant to treatment with treatment failure related to greater body image concerns, impulsivity, depression, severe diet restriction and poor social adjustment. For those with binge eating disorder overweight in childhood and high emotional eating predicts treatment resistance. There is suggestive data that a diagnosis of an anxiety disorder and severe perfectionism may confer treatment resistance in anorexia nervosa and substance use disorders or personality disorders with impulse control problems may produce resistance to treatment in bulimia nervosa. Traits such as perfectionism, cognitive inflexibility and negative affect with likely genetic influences may also affect treatment resistance. Pharmacotherapy and novel therapies have been developed to address treatment resistance. Atypical antipsychotic drugs have shown some effect in treatment resistant anorexia nervosa and topiramate and high doses of SSRIs are helpful for treatment of resistant binge eating disorder patients. There are insufficient randomized controlled trials to evaluate the novel psychotherapies which are primarily based on the core psychopathological features of the eating disorders.

Conclusion

Treatment resistance in eating disorders is usually predicted by the severity of the core eating disorder psychopathology which develops from an interaction between environmental risk factors with genetic traits and a vulnerable neurobiology. Future investigations of the biological features and neurocircuitry of the core eating disorders psychopathology and behaviors may provide information for more successful treatment interventions.

Keywords:
Treatment resistance; Anorexia nervosa; Bulimia nervosa; Binge eating disorder