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Eating disorder refers to an illness that brings about significant disturbances to a person’s everyday diet like severely overeating or consuming extremely small amount of food (Keel, 2006). People with eating disorders begin by consuming larger or smaller amounts of food, and later the urge to consume more or less becomes uncontrollable. Severe concern or distress about a person’s own body shape or weight may also be a characteristic of an eating disorder. In most cases, eating disorders appear during adolescence and early adulthood stages of human development, but studies have shown that some people are likely to develop eating disorders during late adulthood or childhood (Keel, 2006). Anorexia nervosa, binge-eating disorder, and bulimia nervosa are the eating disorders that commonly affect people in the contemporary society (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010). Studies show that both men and women may develop eating disorders. These disorders coexist with various health problems such as anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse. This paper will focus on the classification, symptoms, causes, nursing assessment, diagnosis, complications, and treatment of eating disorders.
Classification of Eating Disorders
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Anorexia nervosa refers to an eating disorder that is accompanied by self-starvation or restricted eating. It develops when individuals are afraid of consuming food by thinking that they will become overweight. Individuals with this disorder refuse to maintain a healthy body weight. Such individuals practice extreme fasting, do excessive exercises, and eat extremely little food on a daily basis. Some people refuse to eat for a number of days, which increases the likelihood of death due to starvation. People with anorexia nervosa feel that they have a lot of fat in their bodies, when in the real sense they are dangerously thin or emaciated. They set high standards in an unreasonable manner to govern how their bodies should look like. Anorexia nervosa can bring about bouts of anxiety and depression. Research has shown that females have a higher likelihood of developing anorexia nervosa than males do. About 10 percent of anorexia nervosa patients die due to suicide, starvation, or cardiac arrest (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010).
Bulimia nervosa is among the most common eating disorders that affect a large percentage of females in human population. People with bulimia nervosa experience binge eating repeatedly. Binge eating leads to an abnormal urge to consume food excessively. People suffering from this eating disorder have a feeling that they are overweight, but in the real sense, they are not overweight. Some of these individuals induce vomiting or use diuretics or laxatives to get rid the calories they consumed (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010). Others fast for a number of days and do vigorous exercises excessively to reduce weight or avoid gaining weight. Studies show that individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa have a high likelihood of abusing illegal drugs, feeling fearful, or feeling depressed for no reason. Fasting and binging might be dangerous to individuals with bulimia nervosa because of various reasons, including periodontal problems, development of ulcers in the stomach, heart problems, just to mention a few. Experiencing traumatic events make the victimized people have a high likelihood of suffering from bulimia nervosa (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010).
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder refers to an eating disorder, which characterize people who overeat repeatedly. People with binge eating disorder have an irresistible desire to eat. Such individuals feel extremely guilty after they have overeaten (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010). However, unlike the case with bulimia nervosa, individuals suffering from the binge eating disorder do not do excessive exercises, do not fast, purge, or have a need to use diuretics. Mostly, binge eating disorder affects adults. Both males and females are equally likely to suffer from binge eating disorder, which is not the case with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Research has shown that binge eating disorder is common with obese people. Obese individuals are more likely to suffer from medical complications than normal people because they may gain weight further. These individuals might also lack self-confidence, abuse illegal drugs, develop depressive disorders, or develop a feeling that they deviate from the rest of the people in modern society, which makes them feel uncomfortable (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010).
Symptoms of Eating Disorders
People with eating disorders, such as overeating disorder, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa may experience numerous combinations of symptoms. Additionally, a number of body image and eating disorders have a close relationship with bulimia and anorexia, including exercise addiction. Many individuals suffering from eating disorders display no physical signs, but experience severe internal feelings, which force them to depend on measures to help control anxiety, troubling emotions, or intense pain. Once people show signs or symptoms of a eating disorder, they should seek medical intervention immediately (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010). People with eating disorders experience unhealthy social, spiritual, and emotional development because their eating behaviors become disordered. These people display a number of behaviors, including exercising excessively, using illicit drugs, consuming diuretics, visiting the bathroom immediately after every meal, and adhering to strict diets. In spite of different symptoms, all eating disorders happen because of common factors, including medical history, genetics, life experiences, environmental factors, and co-occurring additive and psychiatric disorders. However, signs and symptoms of eating disorders vary depending on the eating disorder and the stage through which the disorder has progressed (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010).
Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa
Physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa include fatigue, underweight, brittle nails, menstrual irregularities, dizziness, and the appearance of fine hair on the body. Behavioral and emotional signs of this eating disorder may include excessive exercise, refusing to eat, denial of hunger, adopting strict eating rituals, and displaying the behavior of eating few safe foods (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010).
Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
Symptoms of bulimia include damaged gums and teeth, heartburn, irregular menstruation, abnormal functioning of the bowels, and swollen saliva producing glands. Behavioral symptoms of bulimia nervosa include use of laxatives, constant dieting, hiding food, excessive exercising, self-induced vomiting, and frequent trips to the bathroom immediately after meals (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010).
Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
People suffering from binge eating disorder tend to be ashamed and embarrassed because of their eating habits. Therefore, they try to ensure that other people cannot identify their symptoms by eating in secret. Many individuals develop obesity due to binge eating. Behavioral symptoms of this disorder include eating continuously, hiding food for later consumption, uncontrollable and excessive eating. People suffering from binge eating disorder also experience emotional symptoms, which include feeling guilty or disgusted after overeating, feeling tension or stress before eating, embarrassment upon overeating, and failure to get satisfied (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010).
Risk Factors of Eating Disorders
It has not been possible to state exact causes of eating disorders among people in the society. Bulimia, anorexia, and many other disorders usually result from an interaction of psychological, genetic, biological, social, family, and environmental factors. Some women develop eating disorders due to genetic factors (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010). Research has shown that women, whose parents suffer from eating disorders have a high likelihood of developing a disorder. A woman may suffer from an eating disorder due to emotional and psychological factors. The woman may experience perfectionism, difficulties with anger management, or trouble relationships and family conflicts. Cultural and social issues are also extremely significant in causing eating disorders. Popular media usually reinforces and cultivates an ideal woman’s image. A woman predisposed to eating disorders comes to think that happiness and success is often equal to being thin. Research has shown that peer pressure can fuel the obsession among adolescent women (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010).
Diagnosis of Eating Disorders
Diagnosis of eating disorders depends on signs and symptoms as well as eating habits of individuals. Once doctors suspect the presence of an eating disorder, they perform examinations or run a number of tests. These can be useful in pinpointing a diagnosis and can check for associated complications. Mental health providers and medical doctors are helpful in making diagnoses regarding eating disorders. Diagnosis may involve physical and psychological evaluations. Physical evaluations include physical examination, laboratory tests, and other studies (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010). Physical examination also involves measuring body mass index, weight, and height, checking the heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure, listening to the lungs and heart, and examining the abdomen. Laboratory tests involve blood count and urinalysis. The blood count is necessary because the doctor is able to check protein and electrolytes as well as the functioning of thyroid, liver, and kidneys. Other tests involve X-rays, which may check for heart problems or pneumonia (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010).
Psychological evaluations are extremely significant during the diagnosis of eating disorders. Mental health providers and doctors may ask a patient a number of questions regarding his or her beliefs, behaviors, and eating habits (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010). The main focus of such questions may be on bingeing, dieting, exercise, and purging. It is necessary for individuals to explore how they perceive their bodies as well as how they think other people perceive them. Doctors may require their patients to fill out questionnaires and psychological self-assessment tests (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010).
Complication of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders bring about a number of health complications, some of which are life-threatening. When an eating disorder is severe or lasts for a long time, then it is likely that the patient may experience severe complications. Such complications may include heart problems, kidney damage, bone loss, suicidal thoughts, depression, digestive problems, absence or delay of menstruation, tooth decay, just to mention a few. Some of these complications, such as kidney damage, heart failures, digestive problems, and suicidal thoughts may cause death (Crow et al., 2012). Women suffering from anorexia nervosa find it hard to conceive, and they have a high likelihood of experiencing premature birth or miscarriage if they conceive. Teeth damage results from frequent vomiting, which is the case with individuals suffering from bulimia nervosa. Therefore, it is necessary for patients to seek medical attention for the alleviation of various complications to avoid early deaths (Crow et al., 2012).
Treatment of Eating Disorders
Treatments vary from one patient to the other. They require health professionals to coordinate treatment plans. Effective treatment programs for eating disorders address patient’s destructive eating behaviors, symptoms, and causes of the problem, such as emotional triggers (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010). Individuals suffering from eating disorders should ask for help from religious leaders, school counselor, colleagues, or family members on the best alternatives that will lead to recovery. However, most individuals are not confident enough to approach other people especially close friends and relatives regarding the problem they are experiencing. Long-term treatment plans are also necessary for the treatment of eating disorders. These include medical monitoring, family therapy, inpatient treatment, individual therapy, and nutritional counseling. Once those people with eating disorders get sufficient advice and counseling on how to organize their daily diets, they will resume a normal life (Crow et al., 2012).
Eating disorders may lead to the development of life threatening complications, which may result in death of patients (Crow et al., 2012). Eating disorders are treatable and it is necessary for individuals with eating disorders to seek medical intervention once they experience signs and symptoms (Birmingham & Treasure, 2010). Early diagnosis is extremely useful because it leads to early treatment, which helps avoid the development of complications, such as kidney damage, heart failure, and other complications (Crow et al., 2012).