Computer program may help treat bulimia nervosa

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Last Updated: 2001-07-13 12:31:58 EDT (Reuters Health)

LONDON (Reuters Health) – Individuals with bulimia nervosa can get help for their eating disorder by using a computer programme, British researchers said on Friday.

The programme, which comes on a CD-ROM, might make it easier for people who are embarrassed about their condition to get the help they need. Many bulimics feel shame about their condition and often try to keep it secret, investigators said.

"So far, 40 people have used the program, and the vast majority have been very positive about it," lead researcher Dr. Ulrike Schmidt, consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in London, told Reuters Health. "During interviews it emerged that a lot of them felt the computer was very safe and made things very manageable. They said it helped them realise they could overcome their problems."

The new computer package is based on cognitive behavioural therapy. Information is provided by the patient that is used to measure depressive symptoms and degree of motivation in seeking a cure. In return, the program explains the binge/purge cycle of behaviour that characterises the disease.

Two out of three people (67%) who tested the programme said they found it easy to use. Nearly all of the users (93%) said they would recommend the programme to a friend.

The results, presented by Dr. Schmidt at the annual meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in London, showed that all 33 patients so far treated by the program have seen substantial improvements in their condition. She reported that binge eating and laxative use–two key markers of the severity of bulimia nervosa–both declined in the weeks following the treatment.

Dr. Schmidt told Reuters Health that she believes computer-literate youngsters may be more at home with a software-based therapy package than they are attending a clinic. "If you are 17 and suffering from an eating disorder, you may not want to talk face-to-face; and doing it on a computer can take away that element of shame."

-London Newsroom +44 20 7542 7986

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