Suicide Risk Elevated in Patients and Relatives With Eating Disorders

More on Eating Disorders from Interview with:
Shuyang Yao, MSc
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Response: Suicide risk is much higher in individuals with eating disorders than individuals without the disorders. The mechanism underlying the high suicide risk in eating disorders (i.e., why?) is not clear. Large studies and genetically informative designs can help us understand the nature of the association between suicide attempts and eating disorders.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

1) Eating disorders are associated with increased risk of suicide attempts and death by suicide.

2) Increased risk of suicide attempts is also found in relatives of individuals with eating disorders.

3) Some, but not all of the increased risk for suicide in individuals with eating disorders is accounted for by the presence of comorbid major depressive, anxiety, and substance use disorders.

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

1) Factors that are shared within families contribute to both eating disorders and suicide attempts.

2) Clinicians should be vigilant for signs of suicide in all patients with eating disorders regardless of comorbidity, but they should be especially vigilant in those with comorbid depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.

3) The suicide risk is higher in both anorexia and bulimia nervosa, encouraging clinicians and family members to be vigilant in both conditions

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: Although we were able to conclude that familial factors underlie the association between eating disorders and suicide, we were unable to determine the extent to which these were due to genetic or shared environmental factors.

Also, bringing this population work down to a personal level to understand the proximal factors that lead to suicide attempts in individuals with eating disorders may assist with decreasing the risk for suicide in this population.


Yao S, Kuja-Halkola R, Thornton LM, et al. Familial Liability for Eating Disorders and Suicide Attempts: Evidence From a Population Registry in Sweden. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online January 13, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2737.

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Last Updated on January 17, 2016 by Marie Benz MD FAAD