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Self-Harm Eating Disorders Patients Often Go Undetected

Intentional self-injury among teenagers with eating disorders is occurring at a much higher rate than most health care professionals are aware of, according to a study in the latest issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health. Researchers found that 4 in every 10 teenagers with an eating disorder had harmed themselves deliberately. If screening is not thorough, the number of people intentionally harming themselves may be even higher.

A team assessed data on the intake evaluation records of 1,432 youngsters aged 10 to 21 years who were admitted to the eating disorders program run by Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford, from January 1997 until April 2008.

The majority of the patients were girls (90%), about 75% of them were Caucasian, with an average age of 15 years. 40.8% of them were found to be harming themselves. Those harming themselves had an average age of 16, most of them were cutting themselves. A considerable number of patients intentionally hurting themselves had a history of binging and purging.

The investigators report that less than half of all patients were being asked by health care providers whether they had deliberately harmed themselves. Health care professionals tended only to question patients with eating disorders about self-harm if they fitted typical profiles, such as being older, female, Caucasian, with bulimia nervosa, and/or a history of substance abuse.

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