Blood Tests May Help Detect Bulimia But Are Not Fool-Proof

Bulimia is a serious eating disorder that usually (but not always) involves binging and purging. Some people who have bulimia don't even realize they have it, or they may not realize the extent of the severity of their disorder. Some parents may worry that their child is suffering from this disorder. If you think you or a loved one may have bulimia, you should make an appointment to see a doctor as soon as possible, but don't rely on routine tests, such as blood tests, to pick up on the problem.

Routine lab work is unreliable when it comes to eating disorders and may not indicate any problems at all. A patient can be lulled into a false sense of security when labs come back normal, and this can be dangerous. Even patients with a severe eating disorder can get back normal lab results because routine blood tests are not checking for the specific issues that eating disorders may cause.

Nutritional deficiencies may not be severe enough to show up as a problem in routine tests. If the patient is getting nutrients at all, or if they haven't purged recently, a blood test may not pick up any abnormalities. By the time the damage is detected in routine blood tests, it may already be extreme. Another problem with routine blood tests is that they can't confirm abnormalities are due to bulimia.

Blood tests are one tool your doctor can use to determine if a person has bulimia and to assess the extent of their problem, but the doctor will need to know in advance what he's looking for so that he can order the right tests. When checking for bulimia, doctors will usually order a complete metabolic profile to check for issues that a routine blood test might miss. A more comprehensive blood test may detect electrolyte imbalances, protein deficiencies, or organ damage. More extensive blood tests may also detect problems like metabolic alkalosis, which comes from purging.

Blood tests alone shouldn't be used to determine if a person is bulimic. Any deficiencies detected could be the result of another condition entirely. Doctors will also want to interview the patient, get a urine sample, check for heart problems, look for swollen glands, test for pneumonia, or check for stress fractures. A bone density scan is also very useful in detecting malnutrition. With a more comprehensive assessment of the problem, doctors are better able to refer patients for the right kind of treatment.

Sources: Walden Eating Disorders, Mirasol

Photo: Pixabay

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