Eating disorders effect people of all ages, genders, backgrounds and ethnicities. Unfortunately, eating disorders, which are the result of irregular or disturbed eating behaviors, are surprisingly common. Without treatment, eating disorders can lead to severe health issues and can even lead to the death of an individual. However, with proper treatment and early detection, patients who suffer from such disorders can have remarkable recoveries.
As a nurse, you can play a monumental role in identifying whether a patient potentially suffers from an eating disorder. Nurses are able to assist patients as they overcome their struggles with body image and dangerous eating habits, and increase the chances of a successful recovery. By being aware of the basic warning signs of an eating disorder, a nurse can help save a patient’s life.
What symptoms of eating disorders do nurses need to look out for?
Eating disorders can be difficult to identify because symptoms are not always obvious or immediate, and patients often attempt to hide their illness. Nevertheless, a nurse can and should still be on the lookout for warning signs to determine if an individual has an eating disorder.
With the anorexia eating disorder, a nurse should be concerned if a patient is suffering from any of the following symptoms:
- Unexplained weight loss
- A loss of appetite or a refusal to eat or drink anything
- Difficulty swallowing
- Regular comments about body image or a fear of becoming overweight
- Fatigue, dizziness or even fainting
- Thinning hair and dry or yellowish skin
With the bulimia eating disorder, patients will demonstrate similar symptoms as anorexia, but nurses should also keep an eye out for these signs:
- Binge eating or excessive intake of food in a short period of time
- Swollen cheeks or skin sores around the face and mouth
- Yellowing or sensitive teeth and receding gum lines
- Using the bathroom after every meal
- Broken blood vessels in the eyes
Having an awareness of eating disorder symptoms allows nurses to take immediate action and begin treatment, avoiding a delay in getting the patient proper help.
The role nurses should play when working with patients
Every patient suffering from an eating disorder faces a unique set of hurdles to overcome before recovering. Not only can the illness be at different levels of progression or severity, but numerous psychological influences can make a patient’s recovery a long and slow process.
When working with a patient who has an eating disorder, a nurse has many roles. You have the responsibility of closely monitoring the patient’s food intake and physical responses, but also supporting the patient through emotional struggles. The goal is to create a safe and stress-free environment so your patient doesn’t feel any anxiety.
The extent of treatment will change from patient to patient, but ultimately, nurses perform the following tasks when working with these patients
- Observing the patient’s nutritional status
- Monitoring the patient’s weight gain or loss
- Ensuring the patient is properly hydrated
- Monitoring the condition of the patient’s skin and verifying sores are healing properly
- Encouraging healthy levels of activity and exercise
- Preventing patient access to diuretics and laxatives
Nurses have duties to treat the psychological needs of patients with eating disorders as well. These duties include:
- Creating a non-judgmental environment for the patient
- Giving positive feedback to the patient when gaining weight or eating a meal
- Educating the patient about positive body image and self-care
Tips to help nurses treat patients
Patients with eating disorders are more likely to recover from their illness if they feel supported and safe. The ability of a nurse to create that supportive atmosphere is essential to a speedy recovery. Fortunately, there are a few tips to assist you in helping a patient succeed both physically and mentally:
- Supervising mealtimes and the whereabouts of patients thereafter can be an easy way to keep track of eating and prevent purging after a meal.
- Setting milestones or benchmarks for patients so that they feel they are achieving goals rather than fighting an illness.
- Setting parameters for the patients to ensure they are still making progress.
Patients with eating disorders are often vulnerable and hesitant to follow through with treatment. However, nurses can make a world of difference in helping these individuals enjoy a happy and healthy relationship with food.