Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Eating disorders are diagnosed based on signs, symptoms and eating habits. When doctors suspect someone has an eating disorder, they typically run many tests or perform exams. These can help pinpoint a diagnosis and also check for related complications. You may see both a medical doctor and a mental health provider for a diagnosis.

Physical evaluations

These exams and tests generally include:

  • Physical exam. This may include measuring height, weight and body mass index; checking vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure and temperature; checking the skin for dryness or other problems; listening to the heart and lungs; and examining your abdomen.
  • Laboratory tests. These may include a complete blood count, as well as more-specialized blood tests to check electrolytes and protein, as well as liver, kidney and thyroid function. A urinalysis also may be done.
  • Other studies. X-rays may be taken to check for pneumonia or heart problems. Electrocardiograms may be done to look for heart irregularities. You may also have a bone density test.

Psychological evaluations

In addition to a physical exam, you'll have a thorough psychological evaluation. Your doctor or mental health provider may ask you a number of questions about your eating habits, beliefs and behavior. The questions may focus on your history of dieting, bingeing, purging and exercise. You'll explore how you perceive your body image and how you think others perceive your body image. You may also fill out psychological self-assessments and questionnaires.

Diagnostic criteria

To be diagnosed with an eating disorder, you must meet criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Each eating disorder has its own set of diagnostic criteria. Your mental health provider will review your signs and symptoms to see if you meet the necessary diagnostic criteria for a particular eating disorder. Some people may not meet all of the criteria but still have an eating disorder and need professional help to overcome or manage it.

Feb. 08, 2012