Prozac Reduces Relapses in Anorexia Nervosa

However, it won't help if a patient is still underweight.

Syracuse Post Standard, 5/22/97

SAN DIEGO (AP)-- Prozac can help keep people who have recovered from anorexia nervosa from falling back into self-starvation, a study found.

Many psychiatrists already have been prescribing the drug for that purpose in the past few years. One expert called the work the best evidence yet that Prozac can help.

"This is very promising and it's very exciting" because relapses are common in anorexia, said Dr. Walter Kaye, main author of the study and a psychiatry professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

He cautioned that Prozac can't treat the disorder itself. And he said that other studies suggest Prozac won't help if an anorexia nervosa Patient is still underweight.

The work was paid for in part by Eli Lilly & Co., which makes Prozac. It was presented Wednesday at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

Prozac is-best known as an antidepressant, but it also is approved for treating bulimia nervosa--in which people binge, then make themselves vomit--and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Anorexia nervosa affects about 0.5 percent to 1 percent of adolescent girls and young women. Rates are much lower in males. People with the disorder can starve themselves to death, driven by an irrational belief that they're fat or a fear of getting fat.

The new study focused on people who eat too little or exercise too much, which accounts for about half of anorexia nervosa patients.

Treatment for the disorder includes hospitalization if needed to deal with the medical problems, and psychotherapy.

Many psychiatrists are prescribing Prozac as part of initial treatment as well as to prevent relapse later on, said Dr. Joel Yager, a psychiatry professor at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine.

Kaye's study is the strongest evidence yet of Prozac's usefulness in the disorder, Yager said.

Kaye and colleagues followed 35 patients for a year after they were discharged from a hospital at a healthy weight. The patients were randomly assigned to take either Prozac or a placebo.

At the end of the year, 10 of the 16 patients on Prozac had maintained a healthy body weight and shown a reduction in depression or obsessions about losing weight. Only three of 19 patients on placebo did as well.

It's not clear why Prozac helps. It might make patients less vulnerable to obsessions, compulsions, depression and anxiety, all of which can provoke a relapse, Yager and Kaye said.

To the analysis of the data. . .