Physical Exam for Eating Disorders

Topic Overview

During a physical exam for eating disorders, the doctor will:

  • Check your weight and compare it with the expected weight for someone of the same height and age. In general, a body mass index (BMI) that is less than 18.5 in adults is considered underweight.1
  • Check your blood pressure, pulse, and temperature. Many people who have eating disorders have a sudden drop in blood pressure when they sit up from a lying position or stand up from a sitting position.
  • Listen to your heart and lungs.
  • Examine your belly for anything unusual.
  • Check your hands and feet for swelling.

Other physical signs include:2

  • Dry skin.
  • Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmia).
  • Thinning or dull hair on the head and unexpected fine hair growth on the body.
  • Low blood pressure (especially when you stand up).

Because vomiting is often part of an eating disorder, the doctor may also check for:3

  • Inflamed or diseased teeth and gums or erosion of tooth enamel.
  • Swollen glands in the neck.
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes.
  • Teeth marks on the back of the hands or calluses on the knuckles from self-induced vomiting.
  • Sores in the mouth.

References

Citations

  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health (2000). The Practical Guide: Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults (NIH Publication No. 00-4084). Available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/prctgd_c.pdf.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics (2010). Clinical report: Identification and management of eating disorders in children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 126(6): 1240–1253.
  3. Fairburn CG, Harrison PJ (2003). Eating disorders. Lancet, 361(9355): 407–416.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer W. Stewart Agras, MD, FRCPC - Psychiatry
Last Revised April 10, 2012

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