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Overview of Eating Disorders: Signs and Symptoms

Most of us know or have known someone who has struggled with an eating disorder. They have painful, tough disorders to handle due frequently to patient denial despite obvious problems. The earlier these diseases are recognized, the easier the treatment will begin. Anorexia Nervosa is a medical condition defined by low body weight. Most patients are adolescent females, although they can strike at any age. For diagnosis, the patient must be underweight, but early symptoms start with heavy, excessive exercise, inappropriate calorie counting, and blunt refusal to eat. At later stages, patients will have marked exercise intolerance, heart arrhythmias, and very thin body hair. Patients will often deny that they have any issues. The other most common disorder is Bulimia. This disorder also most commonly strikes adolescent females, but again can hit at any age and any gender. This disorder most commonly manifests in girls who are overweight who desire to be thin. Patients will engage in a binge and purge behavior, eating a large amount of food before voluntarily vomiting it up. Those around the patient may notice horrible dentition, or teeth, and degraded, foul smelling fingernails due to the stomach acid coming up with the food on a regular basis. At extreme levels, this disorder can also cause heart problems.

What are the treatment options?

All patients should first be encouraged to see a medical doctor. Basic labs and an EKG should be done, as the vomiting can damage the heart as well as throw off the body's electrolytes. At this time, the doctor will decide if the patient requires a hospital stay to normalize the body's electrolytes imbalances or the heart. If the patient requires a hospital stay, the patient will gradually start feeding normally again. It is important not to force too much food into the patient too quickly because this can cause a refeeding syndrome and actually make problems worse. The physician will check daily weights and ensure the patient is feeding completely. If the disorder hasn't progressed too far, a more conservative treatment might include outpatient counseling to get to the root of why the patient feels the need to restrict eating. Finally, if the disorder is severe, the patient may require forced hospitalization for a prolonged stay with long term feeding protocols and weight gaining foods. Patients should remember that there are many treatment options available for patients who are struggling with an eating disorder.

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