Differential Diagnoses of Eating Disorders

Differential Diagnoses of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders refer to a group of conditions defined by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual’s physical and mental health. Bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common specific forms in the United Kingdom.Though primarily thought of as affecting females eating disorders affect males as well. An estimated 10 – 15% of people with eating disorders are males. Although eating disorders are increasing all over the world among both men and women, there is evidence to suggest that it is women in the Western world who are at the highest risk of developing them and the degree of westernization increases the risk. Nearly half of all Americans personally know someone with an eating disorder. The skill to comprehend the central processes of appetite has increased tremendously since leptin was discovered, and the skill to observe the functions of the brain as well.

The precise cause of eating disorders is not entirely understood, but there is evidence that it may be linked to other medical conditions and situations. Cultural idealization of thinness and youthfulness have contributed to eating disorders affecting diverse populations. One study showed that girls with ADHD have a greater chance of getting an eating disorder than those not affected by ADHD.Another study suggested that women with PTSD, especially due to sexually related trauma, are more likely to develop anorexia nervosa.One study showed that foster girls are more likely to develop bulimia nervosa. Some think that peer pressure and idealized body-types seen in the media are also a significant factor. Some research show that for certain people there are genetic reasons why they may be prone to developing an eating disorder.

While proper treatment can be highly effective for many suffering from specific types of eating disorders, the consequences of eating disorders can be severe, including death(whether from direct medical effects of disturbed eating habits or from comorbid conditions such as suicidal thinking

The specific cause/ causes of eating disorders are unknown. However, it is believed to be due to a combination of biological, psychological and/or environmental abnormalities. A common belief is that “Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger. This would mean that some people are born with a predisposition to it, which can be brought to the surface pending on environment and reactions to it. Many people with eating disorders suffer also from body dysmorphic disorder, altering the way a person sees themselves.There are also many other possibilities such as environmental, social and interpersonal issues that could promote and sustain this illness.Also, the media are oftentimes blamed for the rise in the incidence of eating disorders due to the fact that media images of idealized slim physical shape of people such as models and celebrities motivate or even force people to attempt to achieve slimness themselves. The media are accused of distorting reality, in the sense that people portrayed in the media are either naturally thin and thus unrepresentative of normality or unnaturally thin by forcing their bodies to look like the ideal image by putting excessive pressure on themselves to look a certain way.

Differential diagnoses

There are a variety of medical conditions which may be misdiagnosed as an eating disorder such as Lyme disease which is known as the “great imitator”, as it may present as a variety of psychiatric or neurologic disorders including anorexia nervosa.

  • Addison’s Disease is a disorder of the adrenal cortex which results in decreased hormonal production. Addison’s disease, even in subclinical form may mimic many of the symptoms of anorexia nervosa.
  • gastric adenocarcinoma is one of the most common forms of cancer in the world. Complications due to this condition have been misdiagnosed as an eating disorder.
  • helicobacter pylori is a bacterium which causes stomach ulcers and gastritis and has been shown to be a precipitating factor in the development of gastric carcinomas. It also has an effect on circulating levels of leptin and ghrelin, two hormones which help regulate appetite. Upon successful treatment of helicobacter pylori associated gastritis in pre-pubertal children they showed “significant increase in BMI, lean and fat mass along with a significant decrease in circulating ghrelin levels and an increase in leptin levels” (Pacifico, L).”SUMMARY: H. pylori has an influence on the release of gastric hormones and therefore plays a role in the regulation of body weight, hunger and satiety,”(Weigt J, Malfertheiner P).
  • hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, hypoparathyroidism and hyperparathyroidism may mimic some of the symptoms of, can occur concurrently with, be masked by or exacerbate an eating disorder.

There are multiple medical conditions which may be misdiagnosed as a primary psychiatric disorder. These may have a synergistic effect on conditions which mimic an eating disorder or on a properly diagnosed ED. They also may make it more difficult to diagnose and treat an ED.

  • Lupus: 19 psychiatric conditions have been associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), including depression and bipolar disorder.
  • Toxoplasma seropositivity: even in the absence of symptomatic toxoplasmosis, toxoplasma gondii exposure has been linked to changes in human behavior and psychiatric disorders including those comorbid with eating disorders such as depression. In reported case studies the response to antidepressant treatment improved only after adequate treatment for toxoplasma.
  • neurosyphilis: It is estimated that there may be up to one million cases of untreated syphyilis in the US alone. “The disease can present with psychiatric symptoms alone, psychiatric symptoms that can mimic any other psychiatric illness”. Many of the manifestations may appear atypical. Up to 1.3% of short term psychiatric admissions may be attributable to neurosyphilis, with a much higher rate in the general psychiatric population. Neurosyphilis like Lyme disease has been given the appellation the “great imitator” for it may present in various ways such as depression and chronic alcoholism. (Ritchie, M Perdigao J,)
  • dysautonomia: a term used to describe a wide variety of autonomic nervous system (ANS) disorders may cause a wide variety of psychiatric symptoms including anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Dysautonomia usually involves failure of sympathetic or parasympathetic components of the ANS system but may also include excessive ANS activity. Dysautonomia can occur in conditions such as diabetes and alcoholism.

There are separate psychological disorders which may be misdiagnosed as an eating disorder.

  • Emetophobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by an intense fear of vomiting. A person so afflicted may develop rigorous standards of food hygiene, such as not touching food with their hands. They may become socially withdrawn to avoid situations which in their perception may make them vomit. Many who suffer from emetophobia are diagnosed with anorexia or self-starvation. In severe cases of emetophobia they may drastically reduce their food intake.
  • phagophobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by a fear of eating, it is usually initiated by an adverse experience while eating such as choking or vomiting. Persons with this disorder may present with complaints of pain while swallowing.
  • Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is listed as a somatoform disorder that affects up to 2% of the population. BDD is characterized by excessive rumination over an actual or perceived physical flaw. BDD has been diagnosed equally among men and women. While BDD has been misdiagnosed as anorexia nervosa, it also occurs comorbidly in 39% of eating disorder cases. BDD is a chronic and debilitating condition which may lead to social isolation, major depression and suicidal ideation and attempts. Neuroimaging studies to measure response to facial recognition have shown activity predominately in the left hemisphere in the left lateral prefrontal cortex, lateral temporal lobe and left parietal lobe showing hemispheric imbalance in information processing. There is a reported case of the development of BDD in a 21-year-old male following an inflammatory brain process. Neuroimaging showed the presence of a new atrophy in the frontotemporal region

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