ED Management of Patients with Eating Disorders

American Journal of Emergency Medicine
By Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS


Background: Eating disorders are one of the "great masqueraders" of the twenty-first century. Seemingly healthy young men and women with underlying eating disorders present to emergency departments with a myriad of complaints that are not unique to patients with eating disorders. The challenge for the Emergency Medicine physician is in recognizing that these complaints result from an eating disorder and then understanding the unique pathophysiologic changes inherent to these disorders that should shape management in the emergency department.

Objective: In this article, we will review, from the perspective of the Emergency Medicine physician, how to recognize patients with anorexia and bulimia nervosa, the medical complications and psychiatric comorbidities, and their appropriate management.

Conclusions: Anorexia and bulimia nervosa are complex psychiatric disorders with significant medical complications. Recognizing patients with eating disorders in the ED is difficult, but failure to recognize these disorders, or failure to manage their symptoms with an understanding of their unique underlying pathophysiology and psychopathology, can be detrimental to the patient. Screening tools, such as the SCOFF questionnaire, are available for use by the EM physician. Once identified, the medical complications described in this article can help the EM physician tailor management of the patient to their underlying pathophysiology and effectuate a successful therapeutic intervention.

Written by

Philip S. Mehler, MD, FACP, FAED, CEDS

Dr. Philip S. Mehler began his career at Denver Health more than 35 years ago and was formerly its Chief of Internal Medicine and then Denver Health’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) until he was promoted…

ACUTE Earns Prestigious Center of Excellence Designation from Anthem
In 2018, the ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders & Severe Malnutrition at Denver Health was honored by Anthem Health as a Center of Excellence for Medical Treatment of Severe and Extreme Eating Disorders. ACUTE is the first medical unit ever to achieve this designation in the field of eating disorders. It comes after a rigorous review process.

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