Therapy In Practice

Treatments in Endocrinology

, Volume 1, Issue 3, pp 155-162

Identification and Treatment of Eating Disorders in Women with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus

  • Ann E. Goebel-FabbriAffiliated withHarvard Medical School, Joslin Diabetes Center
  • , Janna FikkanAffiliated withHarvard Medical School, Joslin Diabetes Center
  • , Alexa ConnellAffiliated withHarvard Medical School, Joslin Diabetes Center
  • , Laura VangsnessAffiliated withHarvard Medical School, Joslin Diabetes Center
  • , Barbara J. AndersonAffiliated withHarvard Medical School, Joslin Diabetes Center

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A series of case reports in the early 1980s and prevalence studies in the 1990s highlighted the serious medical consequences of coexisting eating disorders and diabetes mellitus. Diabetes-specific treatment issues, such as the need to carefully monitor diet, exercise, and blood glucose, may contribute to the development of eating disorder symptoms among women with diabetes mellitus.

The attention to food portions and body weight that is part of routine diabetes mellitus management parallels the rigid thinking about food and body image found in women with eating disorders who do not have diabetes mellitus. Additionally, intensive insulin management of diabetes mellitus, the current standard of care, has been shown to be associated with bodyweight gain. Following from this, it may be that the very goals of state-of-the-art diabetes mellitus care increase the risk for developing an eating disorder. Once an eating disorder and recurrent insulin omission becomes entrenched, a pattern develops which is hard to break —one of chronic hyperglycemia, depressed mood, fear of bodyweight gain, and frustration with diabetes management.

Eating disorders predispose women with diabetes mellitus to many complex medical risks. For example, insulin omission and reduction, eating disorder symptoms unique to diabetes mellitus, are strongly associated with an increased risk of diabetic ketoacidosis and with microvascular complications of diabetes mellitus such as retinopathy. For this reason, it is critical that diabetes mellitus clinicians understand more about eating disorders so as to improve the likelihood of early detection, appropriate treatment, and prevention of acute and long-term medical complications within this high-risk group of women.