UAE doctors warn of rise in eating disorders among youth
Jasmine Al Kuttab/Dubai
Filed on October 29, 2017 |
Eating disorders are on the rise, particularly among young women and teenagers, and parents must keep an eye out for the warning signs before it is too late, UAE doctors have warned.
"There are mainly two types of eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. If a patient has either of the two for three months, then we diagnose it as an eating disorder," Dr Khizara Amin, specialist in psychiatry, Universal Hospital, told Khaleej Times.
Dr Amin said in anorexia the patient has a fear of gaining weight. "It is an obsessive fear of gaining weight - the appetite is usually there in anorexia, but they restrict the food by excessive fasting, excessive exercising, or excessive dieting."
She said in bulimia nervosa, binge eating, purging by induced vomiting, or misuse of laxatives, are common. "One in four women is at risk of battling eating disorders. It can be biological or psychodynamic factors that can affect the person, such as severe anxiety."
In anorexia nervosa, a dynamic family history is common, where the patient often has a difficult relationship with the parents. "Usually, in anorexia, the patient has a difficult relationship with the mother, or has a controlling mother."
Dr Amin said a recent case she had was a 19-year-old female patient who had a rough relationship with her mother. "The patient had all the characteristics of both anorexia and bulimia, and she also had a poor relationship with her mother."
The patient was suffering from eating disorders for a long time until she felt she finally had to seek help. Dr Amin said there are also signs other than severe weight loss, to diagnose the patient; for instance, if a woman misses three menstrual cycles.
Look for warning signs
Dr Amin said parents must look out for red flags in their children, including refusal to eat, severe weight loss, emotional instability, menstrual irregularity, gland swelling and marks on the knuckles from inducing vomit.
"These signs don't go on for one or two days, but for months or years. Warning signs of anorexia include rapid weight loss, which can be noticed, whereas in bulimia, the weight often stays the same, which is why it is harder to spot."
She said the child must be referred to a doctor and a psychiatrist for immediate help. "If a parent feels something odd is going on, then it probably is."
She also warned parents to notice if their child goes to the restroom right after eating or spends a long time in the washroom. "The child with bulimia might eat a lot in front of the parents, and make sure the parents see, then they go to the toilet and purge, use enema or laxatives." Dr Amin stressed that doctors today are receiving cases with patients battling both anorexia and bulimia. She said parents have an imperative role in detecting the illness and must also notice dangerous signs, including marks on the child's hands or body from self-harm, functional decline or sudden low grades in school, as well as isolation and mood swings.
"Parents must not ignore it because it can lead to emotional and psychological disturbances. Eating disorder is a psychiatric illness."
Inducing vomit may even trigger cancer over time, she warned. She noted that social media and peer pressure also have a lot to do with the rise in cases. "The fashion industry and social media, where airbrushed images of what a woman's body should ideally look like, is affecting our children."
She stressed that there are countless hidden cases of teenagers and young adults suffering from eating disorders but, "have not come out yet - sometimes it can take years to seek help". "They might only seek help when the body weight is dangerously low, because they end up admitted to ER and require hospitalisation for days." Eating disorders can be fatal, particularly in anorexia, if the body weight is 80-85 per cent less than expected or if the BMI is less than or equal to 15 - which is severe to extreme.
"This is when the patient must be hospitalised and doctors must re-feed the patient. The patient will also require behavioural therapy, psychotherapy and medication to control the eating disorder.