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Eating disorders: Overview of epidemiology, clinical features, and diagnosis

Sara F Forman, MD
Section Editor
Joel Yager, MD
Deputy Editor
David Solomon, MD


Eating disorders are characterized by a persistent disturbance of eating that impairs health or psychosocial functioning [1]. The disorders include anorexia nervosa, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, binge eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, pica, and rumination disorder. Diagnoses are based upon the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), which divides eating disorders into mutually exclusive categories that are based upon observed symptoms [1]. Some diagnoses include a dimensional component that allows clinicians to specify the severity of illness [2-4].

Many aspects of the United States culture display an obsession with weight loss. Women's magazines often include stories about weight management, dieting, or how to tighten specific muscle groups. Models and actors often display a level of thinness that is difficult to attain, computer programs are used to alter photographs to make models look thinner, and some athletes relentlessly pursue a leaner body to enhance performance. This preoccupation to lose weight and tying self-esteem to a thin body type often extends to maturing adolescents.

This topic reviews the epidemiology, pathogenesis, and diagnosis of eating disorders, as well as their course of illness. Treatment of eating disorders, medical complications of eating disorders and their management, evaluation for medical complications and criteria for hospitalization, and the refeeding syndrome in anorexia nervosa are discussed separately.    

(See "Eating disorders: Overview of treatment".)

(See "Anorexia nervosa in adults and adolescents: Medical complications and their management".)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Jul 27, 2016.
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