A team of healthcare experts has compiled a guide to help health professionals recognise the symptoms of a hidden eating disorder and help patients get treatment they need.
People with eating disorders may not disclose their condition when they see health professionals, often because of denial of the condition itself, a wish to avoid treatment, or because of the stigma that can often be attached to a mental health condition.
According to charity Beat Eating Disorders, approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
The guidance, published in the BMJ Postgraduate Medical Journal, aims to help health practitioners become adept at detecting, understanding and managing eating disorders, which is vital as anorexia in particular has a mortality rate of around 20%.
It was compiled by a team led by Dr Anisa Jafar, National Institute for Health Research academic clinical lecturer in emergency medicine, based at Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust.
It is primarily aimed at those in acute care, but its findings hold some relevance to occupational health professionals, who should look out for the presence of eating disorders within their organisations.
Dr Jafar said: “Of all mental health conditions, [eating disorders] are the most likely to result in death, but they can be fully treated with the right support.
“Not everyone can be a specialist and understand all there is to know – however, if we can educate each other a little in eating disorders, we can detect them earlier, treat them more quickly and also stop those who are becoming more serious from slipping through the net.
“Although we could not cover everything, we have managed to cover the most important points in our paper.
“Of course, this is just the start – more funding for specialist eating disorder services and better links to access the services are urgently needed if we are to make a real difference.”
The paper outlines some of the “danger points” that may indicate a patient has a hidden eating disorder, including physical characteristics such as menstrual disturbance and cardiac issues, and behavioural characteristics such as wearing warm, oversized clothes in hot weather.
It also suggests some screening tools that clinicians can use to determine whether someone has an eating disorder, and highlights some of the common reasons why a person with an eating disorder may present at hospital.