Eating Disorders

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Many cases are quite difficult to diagnose. Because guilt, shame, and secretive behavior are recognized aspects of eating disorders, individuals may hide, or minimize, their dysfunctional behavior and its impact on their bodies.

While self-report questionnaires can be helpful, there are currently no definitive medical diagnostic tests for eating disorders, only tests that screen for some of the medical complications that can accompany disordered eating. Even then, many people with eating disorders have normal laboratory results.

Diagnosis can be made even more difficult because people's bodies are different, as are their bodies' responses to eating disorder symptoms. Experts claim, in fact, that the severity of someone's disordered eating often has no correlation with the seriousness of his or her outward symptoms.

Given the severe medical complications associated with these disorders, professional organizations such as the American Psychiatric Association stress that a comprehensive medical examination is essential to determine the appropriate treatment for each individual. Standard laboratory tests used to investigate a suspected eating disorder include:

  • Complete blood count with differential
  • Complete metabolic profile
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Serum magnesium
  • Thyroid screening
  • Urinalysis

Based upon their symptoms and overall health status, patients who weigh more than 15 percent less than their ideal body weight may also undergo:

  • Bone density screening
  • Brain scan
  • Chest X-ray
  • Creatinine screening
  • Echocardiogram
  • Testing of immune function
  • Uric acid screening

It is important to note that the results of these tests shed light on only part of a patient's overall wellness picture. An accurate diagnosis of an eating disorder also requires information gained from psychological interviews and questionnaires. While loved ones can play an important role in helping patients overcome eating disorders, they should never attempt to diagnose and treat these disorders themselves.

Last reviewed on 1/28/10

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