Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 September 2017
Anorexia nervosa (AN) is a disabling, deadly and costly mental disorder. Until recently, treatment recommendations were based on expert opinion and limited evidence. The aim of this systematic review is to synthesise recent evidence on established and emerging AN treatments and to forecast trends for future developments.
We systematically review trials of established treatments and associated process outcome studies from the last 5 years, published since a previous review in this journal. ‘Established’ treatments were those that are widely used in AN, recommended by guidelines and/or have been tested in at least one large randomised controlled trial. Secondly, we summarise emerging treatments for AN, i.e. those that have only been (or are currently being) tested in proof-of concept, feasibility or pilot trials.
We identified 19 published trials of established treatments (15 of high or moderate quality), mostly assessing psychological therapies (n = 17). We also found 11 published trials of emerging treatments, and a total of 34 registered, as yet unpublished trials. Promising emerging treatments include cognitive remediation therapy, exposure therapy and non-invasive neuromodulation.
Evidence generation on the treatment of AN has dramatically accelerated, with our understanding of the role of family-based approaches for adolescents more nuanced and a range of psychological approaches available for the treatment of adults. Evidence on emerging treatments and from forthcoming trials suggests that there is a shift towards more targeted brain-based interventions. Future studies need to focus on elucidating mechanisms of action of treatments and what works best for whom.