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EDRecovery Blog
Tools and Information for Individuals in Recovery from Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating
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April 20, 2011 by Jeanne Rust

Eating Disorders May Be Misdiagnosed

A very thin woman walked into her physician's office for an exam. She had not seen her doctor in years, but felt so chronically fatigued and ill that she knew she needed help. During the interview, she disclosed that she had not had a menstrual period in over seven years. The doctor's response was, "What's wrong? Did you have a hysterectomy?"

The physician failed to recognize that his patient was suffering from an eating disorder simply because he was unfamiliar with symptoms of the disease. Misdiagnosis of eating disorders is frighteningly common, and treatment may be delayed for years because the patient was advised to simply "eat more".

Physicians need to know that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. 5 – 10% of anorexics die within 10 years, 18-20% die within 20 years, and only 30 – 40% ever fully recover. The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate from ALL causes for females ages 15 to 24. 20% of people suffering from anorexia will die prematurely of complications related to their eating disorders, including suicide and heart problems.

Complications from bulimia nervosa also to earlier death than the patient might otherwise experience. The death rate of people who are obese is unknown since death certificates normally list cause of death as heart disease or complications from diabetes.

Individuals with undiagnosed eating disorders often present with a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms, including:

Physical Symptoms

Psychological Symptoms

Social Difficulties

When an eating disorder is suspected, the doctor can gently probe for additional information with questions such as:

If the patient reveals concerns about food, eating habits, or weight, it's important to ask for additional details in an empathetic and non-judgmental manner.
It is crucial that the physician determine whether the patient needs additional care from an outpatient psychotherapist who specializes in eating disorders, or from an inpatient treatment facility. Hospitalization is a last resort and should only be considered when an individual is severely medically compromised or at risk of serious self-harm.

Eating Disorder Symptoms in Adults

Eating Disorder Symptoms in Children and Adolescents

Psychological Indications

Educating physicians about eating disorders and how to recognize them is of vital importance as both the prevalence and the severity of eating disorders continues to increase.

Eating Disorder Warning Signs