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Eating disorders are some of the most challenging mental health diagnosis. Untreated eating disorders can result in severe medical complications and even death in certain cases. As scientific studies suggest that nearly one in 20 people will experience symptoms of an eating disorder at some point in their lives.
Eating disorders are often underdiagnosed which can delay necessary treatment. There is no specific test (e.g., x-ray or blood test) that can diagnosis an eating disorder. Rather, a diagnosis is made by a trained clinician based on the signs and symptoms of these disorders. While many people may experience unhealthy eating habits and have concerns with their body image, people with eating disorders generally experience severe dysfunction due to their symptoms.
Historically, eating disorders were thought to be conditions that were limited to upper-middle class, teenage Caucasian females. Over the past few decades, it is clear that women of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds are confronted with the challenges of eating disorders. Males are less likely to be diagnosed with eating disorders than females, but it has been suggested that as awareness grows, more males are being treated for these severe mental health conditions.
In general, treatment of these challenging mental health conditions involves a multi-disciplinary team of clinicians to help an individual dealing with an eating disorder. This usually includes a primary care doctor (e.g., pediatrician or internist), a nutritionist, a therapist and a psychiatrist.
Working together, members of the treatment team can help to meet the medical, nutritional and psychiatric needs of individuals with an eating disorder. In the vast majority of cases, psychopharmacological medications are not curative treatments for people with eating disorders. In certain cases, some people may find that medications are a helpful part of their treatment.
Eating disorders frequently occur in people with other mental health issues, including depression, anxiety disorders and substance misuse issues. For people with a co-existing mental health diagnoses, effective treatment of this second condition is critically important for proper treatment of their eating disorder.