Unplanned Pregnancy in Women with Anorexia Nervosa

Amenorrhea may be mistaken as
safety from pregnancy.

Reprinted from Eating Disorders Review
January/February 2011 Volume 22, Number 1
©2011 Gürze Books

Women with anorexia nervosa (AN) may assume that their lack of menstrual periods or irregular periods protect them against unwanted pregnancies. However, according to the results of a recent study at the University of North Carolina, significantly more women with AN reported unwanted pregnancies than did women without eating disorders.

Dr. Cyndi Bulik and colleagues at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, compared the frequency of unplanned pregnancies in individuals with AN and in women without eating disorders, using data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study. Their results were reported in the November 2010 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology (vol. 116:1136).

The Norwegian study included data from 62,060 women, 62 of whom had AN. Using data from a questionnaire completed by all participating mothers, the researchers compared the mother’s age at the birth of her child and the frequency with which mothers reported their index pregnancy as being unplanned.

Women with AN were younger than women without eating disorders (26.2 years vs. 29.9 years, respectively) at the time they gave birth. Significantly more women with AN (50.0%) reported unplanned pregnancies than women in the referent group (18.9%). After adjusting for maternal age and infertility treatment, the relative risk of unplanned pregnancy in individuals with AN was 2.11 (95% confidence interval: 1.64-2.72). Induced abortion was also significantly more common among women with AN than among the controls (24.2% compared with 14.6%, respectively).

According to Dr. Bulik and colleagues, the higher rates of unplanned pregnancy and abortion in women with AN are of clinical concern because these women may misinterpret absent or irregular menstrual periods as decreasing their risk of pregnancy.

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