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Giel, Katrin E.; Behrens, Simone C.; Schag, Kathrin; Martus, Peter; Herpertz, Stephan; Hofmann, Tobias; Skoda, Eva-Maria; Voderholzer, Ulrich; Wietersheim, Joern von; Wild, Beate; Zeeck, Almut; Schmidt, Ulrike; Zipfel, Stephan and Junne, Florian (2021): Efficacy of post-inpatient aftercare treatments for anorexia nervosa: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. In: Journal of Eating Disorders, Vol. 9, No. 1, 129

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Abstract

Background Early relapse after inpatient treatment is a serious problem in the management of anorexia nervosa (AN). Specialized aftercare interventions have the potential to bridge the gap between inpatient and outpatient care, to prevent relapse and to improve the long-term outcome for patients with AN. Methods Following the guidelines of the PRISMA statement, we conducted a systematic review, synthesizing the evidence from randomized-controlled trials (RCTs) investigating the efficacy of post-inpatient aftercare treatments for AN. Results Our search resulted in seven RCTs and three registered ongoing trials. Pharmacotherapy and low-threshold guided self-help have limited uptake and high dropout. Novel mobile guided self-help approaches seem promising due to high patient satisfaction, but their efficacy has yet to be investigated in larger trials. Cognitive-behavior psychotherapy may be beneficial in delaying relapse, but evidence is based on a single study. Conclusion Only a limited number of RCTs investigating aftercare interventions for patients with AN is available. There is no clear evidence favoring any one specific approach for post-inpatient aftercare in adult patients with AN. The field faces many challenges which generally affect intervention research in AN. A specific issue is how to increase uptake of and reduce dropout from aftercare interventions. This calls for better tailoring of interventions to patient needs and the integration of patient perspectives into treatment. Intensified research and care efforts are needed to address the problem of recurrent relapse after intensive inpatient treatment for AN and to eventually improve prognosis for this eating disorder. Plain English summary Patients with a severe form of anorexia nervosa (AN) are often treated as inpatients. Many of them benefit from this acute treatment. Unfortunately, a significant number of patients experience relapse after discharge. This problem could be addressed by specific treatments directly following inpatient therapy, so called aftercare interventions, which are tailored to patients' needs in this treatment period. This review looks at studies which have investigated the efficacy of aftercare interventions for patients with AN directly after inpatient treatment. We included any studies which compared a novel aftercare intervention to a control treatment and where patients were randomly assigned to either of these treatments, as this procedure is considered to reduce bias. We found seven studies that investigated different aftercare intervention approaches, including medication, guided self-help and psychotherapy, and three ongoing studies. Based on the very limited evidence so far, no clear recommendations can be made favoring a specific approach for post-inpatient aftercare in adult patients with AN. The review shows that it should be a priority to increase uptake of aftercare interventions and to reduce dropout rates. This could be achieved by a better tailoring of interventions to patient needs and the integration of patient perspectives in intervention design. More studies are needed to find interventions which allow patients with AN to maintain treatment gains after intensive inpatient treatment.

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