A retrospective study of SSRI treatment in adolescent anorexia nervosa: insufficient evidence for efficacy

J Psychiatr Res. 2005 May;39(3):303-10. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2004.08.001.


Although selective-serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors (SSRI) have been of limited efficacy in the treatment of eating disorder psychopathology and comorbid symptoms of malnourished patients with anorexia nervosa (AN), there is recent data suggesting that SSRI may play a role in preventing relapse among weight-restored patients. Though some previous studies included patients in late adolescence, the vast majority of investigated subjects have been adults. The aim of our retrospective study was to assess the effects of SSRI treatment in partially weight-restored children and adolescents with AN. Thirty two females with AN (mean 14.5+/-1.4 years) were investigated three times during inpatient treatment and at 3- and 6-month follow-up for BMI, eating disorder psychopathology, depressive symptomology, and obsessive-compulsive symptomology. Medication history during inpatient and outpatient treatment was reconstructed at the 6-month follow-up. Nineteen patients received SSRI treatment, while 13 subjects were non-medicated. In comparison to the non-SSRI group, the SSRI group had similar BMI and obsessive-compulsive scores, but higher levels of core eating disorder psychopathology and depressive symptoms at the start of medication. Rates of re-admissions were similar in both groups (SSRI group: 36%, non-SSRI group: 31%, Phi: p=0.72). Repeated measures ANOVA revealed no significant group with time interactions for BMI-SDS (p=0.84), core eating disorder symptoms (ANIS, p=0.79), depression (DIKJ, p=0.75), and obsessive-compulsive (CY-BOCS, p=0.40) scores indicating minimal or no effects of SSRI medication on the course of these variables. In conclusion, our results challenge the efficacy of SSRI medication in the treatment of eating disorder psychopathology as well as depressive and obsessive-compulsive comorbidity in adolescent AN. Clinicians should be chary in prescribing SSRI in adolescent AN unless randomized controlled trials have proofed the benefit of these drugs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Anorexia Nervosa / drug therapy*
  • Anorexia Nervosa / epidemiology
  • Anorexia Nervosa / psychology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use*


  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors