Anorexia is among the psychiatric conditions that have the highest mortality rate, with an estimated 6% of anorexia victims dying from complications of the disease. The most common causes of death in people with anorexia are medical complications of the condition, including cardiac arrest and electrolyte imbalances. Suicide is also a cause of death in people with anorexia. In the absence of any coexisting personality disorder, younger individuals with anorexia tend to do better over time than their older counterparts.
Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the overall prognosis in an individual with anorexia. Despite most psychiatric medications having little effect on the symptoms that are specific to anorexia, the improvement in associated symptoms (for example, anxiety and depression) can have a powerful, positive effect on the improvement that individuals with anorexia show over time. With appropriate treatment, about half of those affected will make a full recovery. Some people experience a fluctuating pattern of weight gain followed by a relapse, while others experience a progressively deteriorating course of the illness over many years, and still others never fully recover. It is estimated that about 20% of people with anorexia remain chronically ill from the condition.
As with many other addictions, it takes a day-to-day effort to control the urge to relapse. Many individuals will require ongoing treatment for anorexia over several years, and some may require treatment over their entire lifetime. Factors that seem to predict more difficult recovery from anorexia include vomiting and other purging behaviors, bulimia, and symptoms of obsessive personality disorder. The longer the disease goes on, the more difficult it is to treat as well.