Medical News Today: What is the difference between anorexia and bulimia?

No objective test — such as bloodwork or an X-ray — can definitively point to an eating disorder. Instead, a doctor makes the diagnosis based on a person’s symptoms.

To diagnose anorexia or bulimia, the doctor will ask about the person’s symptoms, and they may also ask family members and other loved ones about their observations.

If a doctor believes that a person has anorexia, they will attempt to diagnose the type. One type primarily involves restricting food intake, while another involves episodes of overeating and purging. If the person has experienced at least one of these episodes in the past 3 months, the doctor will likely make a diagnosis of binge eating and purging anorexia.

In order for a person to receive a diagnosis of bulimia, they must engage in binge eating and unhealthful compensatory behavior at least once a week for at least 3 months, on average. The doctor will classify the severity based on the average number of episodes of compensatory behavior per week.

Diagnosis can be challenging because many people with eating disorders attempt to conceal their symptoms. Even when a person with an eating disorder knows that they are ill, they may be too afraid of gaining weight to seek help.

Support and encouragement from loved ones can be critical, helping a person receive an accurate diagnosis and intervention early. This is especially true for children and adolescents, whose parents or caregivers may have to accompany them when they seek treatment.

Some medical tests can help with a diagnosis, especially when health problems result from an eating disorder. For example, the health of a person’s tooth enamel can sometimes indicate the severity of bulimia.

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