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Open Access Research article

Do the digestive tract symptoms in eating disorder patients represent functional gastrointestinal disorders?

Suzanne Abraham13* and John E Kellow2

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and the Northside Clinic, Sydney Medical School, Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney, Australia

2 Departments of Gastroenterology and Medicine, Royal North Shore Hospital, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

3 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Sydney, Royal North Shore Hospital, St Leonards, Sydney, NSW, 2065, Australia

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BMC Gastroenterology 2013, 13:38  doi:10.1186/1471-230X-13-38

Published: 28 February 2013



Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms are common in patients with eating disorders. The aim of this study was to determine, using factor analysis, whether these GI symptom factors (clusters) in eating disorder patients hold true to the Rome II classification of functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs).


Inpatients in a specialised eating disorder unit completed the Rome II questionnaire. Data from 185 patients were analysed using factor analysis of 17 questions cited as present in 30% to 70% of the patients.


Five factors emerged accounting for 68% of the variance and these were termed: ‘oesophageal discomfort’, ‘bowel dysfunction’, ‘abdominal discomfort’, ‘pelvic floor dysfunction’, and ‘self-induced vomiting’. These factors are significantly related to the Rome II FGID categories of functional oesophageal, bowel and anorectal disorders, and to the specific FGIDs of IBS, functional abdominal bloating, functional constipation and pelvic floor dyssynergia. Both heartburn and chest pain were included in the oesophageal discomfort factor. The ‘pelvic floor dysfunction’ factor was distinct from functional constipation.


The GI symptoms common in eating disorder patients very likely represent the same FGIDs that occur in non-ED patients. Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction in the absence of functional constipation, however, are prominent in eating disorder patients. Further investigation of the items comprising the ‘pelvic floor dysfunction’ factor in other patient populations may yield useful results.

Eating disorders; Functional gastrointestinal disorders; Pelvic floor symptoms; Pelvic floor dyssynergia