Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder

Signs and symptoms of eating disorders

How Common Are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are becoming increasingly prevalent and are associated with negative health and psychological outcomes. Anorexia and bulimia nervosa are among the most common types of eating disorders. Due to the prevalence of these disorders, it is important to recognize the signs of symptoms of a potential eating disorder in order to accurately diagnose and treat the condition.

Who Experiences Eating Disorders?

Both anorexia and bulimia nervosa are more common among the female population than among males. The average age of onset for anorexia nervosa is between 15 and 19, and the average onset of bulimia nervosa is approximately 18 years of age. Additionally, anorexia nervosa tends to be more prevalent among Caucasians and those from higher socioeconomic status groups.

What Causes an Eating Disorder?

There is no isolated cause of an eating disorder, but symptoms are generally precipitated and/or exacerbated by stressful life events. A family history of mental health problems is attributed to an increased risk of developing an eating disorder. Also, certain personality traits such as obsessive behavioral tendencies, anxiety, and perfectionism have also been linked to the development of an eating disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa

Psychological Signs

  •         Persistent body-image distortions
  •         Excessive fear of gaining weight
  •         Excessive efforts made to pursue being thin
  •         Preoccupation with thoughts of food
  •         Not eating in public

Physical Signs

  •         Frail physical appearance
  •         Poor attention and cognition
  •         New onset seizures
  •         Cardiac arrhythmia and cardiac failure
  •         Constipation and abdominal distention
  •         Bone pain and deformities
  •         Skeletal muscle wasting
  •         Dry skin
  •         Brittle nails
  •         Erosion of tooth enamel

Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa

Psychological Signs

  •         Persistent body-image distortions
  •         Excessive fear of gaining weight
  •         Uncontrollable urge to overeat with subsequent feelings of guilt thereafter
  •         Self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, excessive exercise, and food restriction as compensatory efforts to reduce caloric intake

Physical Signs

  •         Chest pain
  •         Shortness of breath
  •         Edema
  •         Constipation
  •         Salivary gland enlargement
  •         Calluses on the back of the hands (as a result of stimulating the gag reflex to induce vomiting)
  •         Erosion of tooth enamel

The timely detection of an eating disorder allows for early intervention and the prevention of potential complications. Due to the complex interplay of physical and psychological factors, continuity of care is essential in the treatment of eating disorders. The treatment and long-term management of an eating disorder depends on the severity and complications of the condition. Usually, management of mild anorexia and bulimia nervosa can occur in an outpatient setting through cognitive behavioral therapy, but more severe cases may necessitate inpatient treatment.