Testing & Diagnosis for Eating Disorder in Children

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How are eating disorders diagnosed?

It can be hard to diagnose an eating disorder, since many adolescents with the disorder try to keep their illness very private and hidden. Parents, teachers, coaches or instructors may be able to identify a child or adolescent with an eating disorder, but the diagnosis is usually made by a qualified mental health professional or medical provider.

Since early treatment can often prevent future problems, if you note symptoms of an eating disorder in your child, it’s a good idea to seek evaluation and treatment sooner rather than later.

If an eating disorder is suspected, some components of the evaluation may include:

  • a careful patient and family history
  • physical examination
  • laboratory tests, including a complete blood count and a urinalysis
  • mental health and nutritional assessments

To help diagnose an eating disorder, your child’s doctor will:

  • assess weight changes
  • inquire about self-perceptions of weight and desired weight
  • ask your child about binging and out of control eating and purging
  • ask your child about use of laxatives and diet pills
  • ask your child about:
    •  abdominal pain
    •  bloating
    • constipation
    • hair loss or change in hair texture
    • cold intolerance
    • fatigue
    • weakness
    • fainting
    • substance use
    • sexuality
    • depression
    • amount of physical exercise
    •  stress fractures

Your child’s doctor will likely also conduct the following studies:

  • a social history — a review of risk factors focusing on the home, education and activities
  • a family history — information about conditions and disorders within the family, including eating disorders, obesity, alcoholism, depression or other mental illness
  • a physical exam —a clinician will assess and examine your child’s blood pressure, pulse, temperature, weight and height, skin and hair changes, heart function and abdomen.

After we complete all necessary tests, Children’s Hospital Boston’s experts meet to review and discuss what they have learned. Then we will meet with you and your family to discuss the results and outline the best treatment options.

We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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