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Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1999 Mar;78(3):233-9.

Eating disorders and gynecology: knowledge and attitudes among clinicians.

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Department of General Psychiatry, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London, UK.



Eating disorders are common, responsive to treatment and affect women at a peak age of reproductive function, often presenting via gynecological and obstetric sequelae. The author wished to examine gynecologists' knowledge and attitudes towards them.


Following a pilot study, a questionnaire concerning eating disorders was designed covering aspects of diagnosis, characteristic gynecological manifestations, treatment, and attitudes. All gynecologists and obstetricians with more than 1 year of experience from four teaching hospitals in Australia and the United Kingdom were sent the anonymous, confidential postal questionnaire. One hundred and fifteen doctors replied, with a response rate of 86%.


Only 20% of respondents were confident of diagnosing eating disorders. Various diagnostic misconceptions were revealed; for example, 42% overestimated weight loss in anorexia nervosa by 20% or more, and 28% wrongly believed that a sense of strict dietary control' was a feature of bulimia nervosa. Clinicians had least knowledge of bulimia nervosa, underestimating its treatment response. Surprisingly, the greatest deficits in knowledge were of endocrinology and gynecological sequelae. For example, 79% underestimated amenorrhea in anorexia nervosa by 25%, and 85% wrongly believed that regular menses was characteristic of bulimia nervosa at normal weight. Consultants demonstrated significantly more knowledge than junior grades. Thirty-one percent of respondents held pejorative attitudes to eating disorders, which over-represented men (p=0.045) who were also more likely than women to see bulimia nervosa as untreatable (p=0.01).


The author suggests that these deficits might be addressed by development of simpler screening questionnaires for non-specialists, and elucidation of the interface between eating disorders and reproductive physiology.

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