Background: Patients with eating disorders (EDs) typically have numerous somatic and gastrointestinal complaints. Early referral to treatment may result in improved outcomes. We sought to determine whether patients with EDs were presenting to gastroenterologists or primary care physicians with gastrointestinal complaints early in the disease course, when referral for specialized, comprehensive treatment would be most beneficial.
Study: Over a 1-year period, we administered a structured interview to a cohort of patients presenting for inpatient ED treatment. We also conducted the same interview on an age-matched cohort of medical students to determine baseline incidences of various gastrointestinal healthcare behaviors.
Results: Patients with bulimia nervosa were significantly more likely to seek healthcare for a gastrointestinal complaint before seeking treatment for an ED than were controls. Patients with EDs were significantly more likely to be prescribed medication for the gastrointestinal tract than were controls.
Conclusion: Gastroenterologists and primary care physicians should employ available instruments to screen young women of low to normal weight with gastrointestinal complaints for possible EDs. Referral to specialized treatment programs should be made promptly when an ED is identified.