Detecting an eating disorder is a very sensitive process and should be handled cautiously especially due to the fact that patients would rarely go to the hospital primarily because of an eating disorder. Moreover, due to shame and guilt which is usually associated with a number of eating disorders, patients are always unwilling to admit suffering from the same. However, there are some key issues that should help a physician to suspect an eating disorder especially when dealing with the most susceptible age group and gender.
Factors like low body weight or concerns from the family members or friends regarding individuals eating patterns should alert the physician of a possibility of an eating disorder. Symptoms of a particular eating disorder are also very helpful in the detection process. For instance, while dealing with anorexia nervosa, the physician should seek to know about the previous weight as well as the weight loss pattern, exercise habits, menstrual history and problems like insomnia (Walsh, Wheat, & Freund 2000).
The physician should seek to determine the eating habit of the patient by asking relevant questions. Moreover, questions concerning their perception towards body weight and image are also very relevant in detecting an eating disorder. Physical examination is also used in detection process. While dealing with a patient suffering from anorexia nervosa, physical examination may reveal conditions like peripheral edema and irregular cardiac rhythm. Some medical conditions that results from weight loss such as mitral valve prolapse are also common with anorexia nervosa patients.
Laboratory examination is usually used to determine the level of electrolytes, minerals like calcium or phosphorous, albumin and urea nitrogen, to name just a few. Other tests are dependent on the symptoms. For instance, an electrocardiogram should be carried out if the patient has a habit of purging (Walsh, Wheat, & Freund 2000). Detection of bulimia follows almost the same path as that of anorexia nervosa though it is difficult to detect due to the sensitivity of the initial questions that are usually asked regarding the patients eating habits.
A screening tool known as SCOFF Questionnaire is often used and contains questions that are aimed at finding out the patient’s attitude towards body weight and the abnormal eating habits. Studies of Walsh, Wheat, & Freund, (2000) indicate that while dealing with bulimia, personal history can be very helpful in the detection process. This is due to the fact that bulimia patients mostly suffer from effects of physical and sexual abuse as well as other psychological conditions.
Although a bulimia patient may look healthy, physical examination is necessary since it points out some issues like eroded teeth enamel caused by vomiting, hoarse voice as a result of gastro esophageal reflux, bleeding as a result of persistent constipation and rectal prolapse. Similarly, laboratory evaluation that is usually carried out in anorexia detection is used but special attention is paid to electrolyte abnormalities like hypokalemia which are usually induced by purging and other related behaviors.