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Keywords:

  • bulimia nervosa;
  • classification

Abstract

Objective:

To review the evidence for the validity and utility of subtyping bulimia nervosa (BN) into a purging (BN-P) and a nonpurging subtype (BN-NP), and of distinguishing BN-NP from binge eating disorder (BED), by comparing course, complications, and treatment.

Method:

A literature search of psychiatry databases for studies published in peer-reviewed journals that used the DSM-definitions of BN and BED, and included both individuals with BN-NP and individuals with BN-P and/or BED.

Results:

Twenty-three studies compared individuals with BN-NP (N = 671) to individuals with BN-P (N = 1795) and/or individuals with BED (N = 1921), two of which reported on course, 12 on comorbidity and none on treatment response—the indicators for validity and clinical utility. The differences found were mainly quantitative rather than qualitative, suggesting a gradual difference in severity from BN-P (most severe) through BN-NP to BED (least severe).

Discussion:

None of the comparisons provided convincing evidence for the validity or utility of the BN-NP diagnosis. Three options for the position of BN-NP in DSM-V were suggested: (1) maintaining the BN-NP subtype, (2) dropping nonpurging compensatory behavior as a criterion for BN, so that individuals currently designated as having BN-NP would be designated as having BED, and (3) including BN-NP in a broad BN category. © 2009 American Psychiatric Association. Int J Eat Disord 2009