Treatment of Bulimia Nervosa in a Primary Care Setting

B. Timothy Walsh, Christopher G. Fairburn, Diane Mickley, Robyn Sysko, Michael K. Parides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

106 Scopus citations


Objective: The authors' goal was to determine whether treatments known to be effective for bulimia nervosa in specialized treatment centers can be used successfully in primary health care settings. They examined the benefits of two treatments for bulimia: 1) fluoxetine, an antidepressant medication, and 2) guided self-help, an adaptation of cognitive behavior therapy. Method: Ninety-one female patients in two primary care settings were randomly assigned to receive fluoxetine alone, placebo alone, fluoxetine plus guided self-help, or placebo and guided self-help. Results: The majority of the patients did not complete the treatment trial; many patients found the treatment program too demanding, but others indicated it was not sufficiently intensive. Patients assigned to fluoxetine attended more physician visits, exhibited a greater reduction in binge eating and vomiting, and had a greater improvement in psychological symptoms than those assigned to placebo. There was no evidence of benefit from guided self-help. Conclusions: The treatment of patients with bulimia nervosa in a primary care setting is hampered by a high dropout rate. Guided self-help, a psychological treatment based on cognitive behavior therapy, appears ineffective, but treatment with fluoxetine is associated with better retention and substantial symptomatic improvement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)556-561
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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