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Question:

My mother is 65 and suffers from a lung disease. Over the past 6 months to a year, she has lost at least 30 - 40 lbs., and now weighs 108 lbs. at 5 feet 8 inches. She is very frail, and her lung disease is getting worse.

My mother constantly says she is not hungry, and blames her weight loss on her lung disease. I have suspected for a while that this is an issue of control, since she typically typically eats 600-700 calories a day at most.

She is now hospitalized, and eats everything put in front of her. When asked why she is eating in the hospital, she will not answer. I think she is afraid the nurses and doctors will find she was starving herself if she does not eat in front of them.

I am terrified my mother will go back to not eating when she comes home.

Does my mother have anorexia? What should I do?

Answered by: Evelyn Attia

The "Ask the Experts" section of this website cannot serve to diagnose individuals or recommend particular treatment options, but your question is an important one because it illustrates how difficult it can be to know whether or not someone has an eating disorder if the patient does not endorse the classic symptoms of these serious disorders.

It may be particularly difficult to identify an eating disorder in the context of medical illness or in someone whose age or other circumstances make the clinical picture atypical. Most hospital settings have departments of consultation liaison psychiatry that are regularly called upon to evaluate psychiatric questions in medical treatment settings. Medical clinicians commonly consult with such specialists as they consider diagnostic possibilities.