Case report: Cognitive performance in an extreme case of anorexia nervosa with a body mass index of 7.7

Simone Daugaard Hemmingsen*, Mia Beck Lichtenstein, Alia Arif Hussain, Jan Magnus Sjögren, René Klinkby Støving

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

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Background: Studies show that adult patients with anorexia nervosa display cognitive impairments. These impairments may be caused by illness-related circumstances such as low weight. However, the question is whether there is a cognitive adaptation to enduring undernutrition in anorexia nervosa. To our knowledge, cognitive performance has not been assessed previously in a patient with anorexia nervosa with a body mass index as low as 7.7 kg/m2. Case presentation: We present the cognitive profile of a 35-year-old woman with severe and enduring anorexia nervosa who was diagnosed at the age of 10 years. She was assessed with a broad neuropsychological test battery three times during a year. Her body mass index was 8.4, 9.3, and 7.7 kg/m2, respectively. Her general memory performance was above the normal range and she performed well on verbal and design fluency tasks. Her working memory and processing speed were within the normal range. However, her results on cognitive flexibility tasks (set-shifting) were below the normal range. Conclusions: The case study suggests that it is possible to perform normally cognitively despite extreme and chronic malnutrition though set-shifting ability may be affected. This opens for discussion whether patients with anorexia nervosa can maintain neuropsychological performance in spite of extreme underweight and starvation. Trial registration:, NCT02502617. Registered 20 July 2015.

Original languageEnglish
Article number284
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 5. Jun 2020


  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Cognitive performance
  • Emaciation
  • Neuropsychology
  • Undernutrition


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