Long-term cardiac assessment in a sample of adolescent-onset anorexia nervosa

J Eat Disord. 2022 Jan 31;10(1):12. doi: 10.1186/s40337-022-00533-w.


Background: High mortality rates have been reported in patients with anorexia nervosa, mainly due to cardiovascular alterations. The purpose of the present study was to assess cardiac structural and functional abnormalities some 20 years after initial treatment in a sample of adolescent-onset anorexia nervosa (A-AN) and to compare them with matched healthy controls (HC).

Methods: A sample of 29 women diagnosed and treated for AN during adolescence (A-AN) were assessed more than 20 years later. A complete cardiac evaluation was carried out including an electrocardiogram (ECG) and a standard 2D echocardiography. Thirty matched HC were also assessed.

Results: In the A-AN group, four subjects had a body mass index lower than 18.5 and met full DSM 5 criteria for AN at follow-up (Low-Weight group). They were compared with the rest of the sample (n = 25) who had normalized their weight (Normal-Weight group), though some still showed some eating disorder symptoms. Both groups were compared with the HC group. Subjects in the Low-Weight group presented statistically significant decreases in the left ventricular end-diastolic and left atrium dimensions and left ventricular mass in comparison with the Normal-Weight group and the HC. No other differences in cardiac parameters were found between groups.

Conclusions: Echocardiographic and ECG parameters of adults who had presented A-AN twenty years earlier and currently maintained normal weight were similar to those of HC who had never been treated or diagnosed with AN. Adult subjects with A-AN who still had low weight in the long term present certain cardiac abnormalities similar to those seen in short-lasting disease. More studies are needed to confirm these results in a larger sample.

Keywords: Adolescent; Anorexia nervosa; Cardiac assessment; Long-term follow-up; Longitudinal study.

Plain language summary

Anorexia nervosa is associated with multiple medical complications and high mortality, mainly due to cardiovascular complications. The main objective of the project was to study long-term cardiac abnormalities in a group of patients diagnosed with anorexia nervosa during adolescence. A sample of 29 patients, treated during adolescence for anorexia nervosa, were evaluated 20 years later. We did an echocardiogram and an electrocardiogram to all of them, and compared them with 30 healthy controls. Of the 29 patients with anorexia nervosa, 4 had low weight and 25 had normal weight. Patients who had normalized their weight did not present cardiac alterations and did not differ from the healthy controls. The 4 underweight patients did present cardiac abnormalities similar to those observed in short-term studies, such as decreased dimensions and mass of the left ventricle and the left atrium.