Date: 29 Dec 2009

Bulimic Eating Disorders in Primary Care: Hidden Morbidity Still?

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Abstract

The current study examined the features of women with bulimic-type eating disorders (n = 24) attending primary care in two smaller urban regions of the USA. The assessment included measures of eating disorder psychopathology, medical comorbidity, impairment in role functioning, potential barriers to treatment and actual use of health services. Eating disorders, primarily variants of bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder not meeting formal diagnostic criteria, were associated with marked impairment in psychosocial functioning. Although two-thirds of participants recognized a problem with their eating, less than 40% had ever sought treatment from a health professional for an eating or weight problem and only one in ten had sought such treatment from a mental health specialist. Only one-third had ever been asked about problems with eating by a primary care practitioner or other health professional. However, more than 80% had sought treatment from a health professional for symptoms of anxiety or depression. Most reported some degree of discomfort in discussing eating problems with others, and half reported that they would not be truthful about such problems if asked. Having an eating disorder was associated with several chronic medical conditions, including joint pain, gastrointestinal problems and fatigue. Although the small sample size limits any firm conclusions, the findings suggest that the health burden of bulimic-type eating disorders is substantial but remains largely hidden. Efforts may be needed to improve the eating disorders “mental health literacy” of both patients and primary care practitioners in order to facilitate early, appropriate intervention.