Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Diagnosis of anorexia nervosa

3-minute read

Many people with anorexia nervosa do not seek treatment, and often deny that they have a problem. However diagnosis of anorexia nervosa is essential as early treatment can improve the chance of recovery.

Anxiety can affect your ability to concentrate.

What is anorexia nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder which causes severe weight loss.

The first step in diagnosis of anorexia is to see a doctor. There are several different tests a doctor may use to make a diagnosis.

Firstly, the doctor will want to make sure a person's weight loss is not caused by another condition. If the doctor suspects a person has anorexia nervosa, they may make a referral to a mental health professional.

A mental health professional will assess an individual for anorexia against a list of criteria outlined in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Version 5 (DSM-5).

The DSM-5 is a manual that mental health professionals use to help diagnose mental health disorders. The criteria for anorexia include a fear of putting on weight and restrictive eating.

To make the assessment, the mental health professional may ask the individual their thoughts, feelings and eating behaviours.

They may also ask the person to complete a questionnaire.

Common tests to diagnose anorexia nervosa

  • Physical exam: A doctor may check an individual's weight and body mass index (BMI). A normal BMI for adults is 20 to 25. A person with anorexia will generally have a BMI below 17.5. The doctor may also check the person's heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, heart and lungs.
  • Laboratory tests: The doctor may run blood tests, including a blood count and specialised tests to check electrolytes, protein, liver, kidney and thyroid functioning. The doctor may also conduct a urine test.

Being underweight puts additional pressure on the body and its organs as they fight for energy. As such, the doctor may also check for any related medical complications caused by the weight loss. This could include tests for bone density, broken bones, pneumonia or heart problems.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know might have anorexia nervosa, contact the following organisations for support, information and counselling:


Last reviewed: July 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Anorexia Nervosa | The Butterfly Foundation

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Read more on Butterfly Foundation website

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa (AN) is defined by the persistent restriction of energy intake, intense fear of gaining weight and disturbance in self-perceived weight or shape

Read more on NEDC - National Eating Disorders Collaboration website

Anorexia nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is a disorder characterised by a relentless desire to lose weight despite obvious malnutrition.

Read more on WA Health website

Anorexia nervosa and osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones become fragile, leading to a higher risk of breaks or fractures. A minor bump or fall can be enough to cause a break in someone with osteoporosis. People with anorexia nervosa are at increased risk of developing osteoporosis. This factsheet explains how anorexia nervosa can affect your bones, how to find out if you are at risk of osteoporosis, and what you can do to help protect your bone health

Read more on Osteoporosis Australia website

Anorexia nervosa in children and young people | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

What is anorexia nervosa? Anorexia nervosa is a mental illness in which there is a disturbance in the way a person experiences their body shape or weight as well as unhappiness with their body

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Anorexia nervosa in children & teenagers | Raising Children Network

Anorexia nervosa is a mental and eating disorder that makes people lose too much weight. Read about signs of anorexia and how to get help for your child.

Read more on website

What is anorexia nervosa? | Eating disorders | ReachOut Australia

Anorexia nervosa is a type of eating disorder with some unique characteristics, such as an obsessive fear of gaining weight, distorted body image and low body weight.

Read more on website

Anorexia nervosa (eating disorders) information | myVMC

Anorexia is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder, characterised by extreme reluctance to consume food as a result of a disturbed body image.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Anorexia nervosa | Garvan Institute of Medical Research

Eating disorders share symptoms such as a distorted view of body shape and weight, and extreme disturbances in eating behaviour. Read about Garvan's research and understanding of these disorders.

Read more on Garvan Institute of Medical Research website

Treatment of eating disorders | Your Health in Mind

Medications (medicines) are not part of the standard treatment for anorexia nervosa because there is not strong enough evidence that they are effective

Read more on RANZCP - The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo