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A woman uses a palm pilot.

In the study, patients will use PDAs to answer questions about what they are feeling and thinking six times a day for two weeks.

U study uses PDAs to examine anorexia nervosa

Nov. 28, 2006

Researchers from the University of Minnesota Medical School's Department of Psychiatry are using an innovative measurement technique involving PDAs (personal digital assistants) to study the behaviors of people with anorexia nervosa.

Researchers will use Ecological Momentary Assessment (EMA) to study the daily thoughts, feelings and state of mind of patients with anorexia nervosa. Patients will be given a PDA, which is pre-programmed to ask them questions about what they are feeling and thinking six times a day for two weeks. Answers will be entered and saved directly into the PDA.

"Information on what factors influence patients and their behaviors is very limited," says Scott Crow, professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota Medical School. "The purpose of the study is to measure these factors and develop a model for predicting anorexia nervosa symptoms based on personality traits, mood states and feelings."

"Tracking what anorexic patients eat, think and feel in real time will allow us to better understand the dynamics of the illness and apply that knowledge to treatment options," says Crow.

Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental illness that is often resistant to treatment. It afflicts as many as one in every 100 girls and young women. In addition to the more than 10 percent death rate of the disease, over time it can lead to multiple medical complications such as osteoporosis, anemia, drops in blood pressure and body temperature, menstrual period instability and hair loss.

People with anorexia nervosa refuse to maintain a health body weight, have an intense fear of fat and gaining weight and can have distorted concepts of body image. The illness is typically diagnosed when patients weigh at least 15 percent less than the healthy weight for their height.

"Tracking what anorexic patients eat, think and feel in real time will allow us to better understand the dynamics of the illness and apply that knowledge to treatment options," says Crow. "We are very excited about this study and what it can offer both patients and the medical community."

The University is currently recruiting subjects that have been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa for this study. For more information and to inquire about participation, please call 612-627-1991 or write to anpalm@umn.edu.

--From Academic Health Center