Elevated Pain Perception in Eating DisorderPatients

Elizabeth Sowden

A handout created for PSY 440 (Perception) field trip to a middleschool
Stephen F. Austin State University


I. There are two major types of eating disorders

a. Anorexia

b. Bulimia


II. Characteristics of Anorexia

a. Deliberate Starvation

b. Fear of Gaining Weight

c. Refusal to Eat

d. Denial of Hunger


III. Characteristics of Bulimia

a. Binge on high calorie food.

i. They can intake up to 20 thousand calories of food in onebinge session.

ii. They binge on ice cream, cookies, French fries, etc.

b. Purge

i. They intentionally induce vomiting.

ii. They over-use laxatives and diuretics.


IV. Possible causes of anorexia and bulimia

a. They have an obsessive need to be perfect.

b. They have become victims of a society that has unrealisticmeasures of beauty.


V. Increased pain thresholds in patients

a. Eating disorder patients can withstand pain for longer periodsof time.

b. Some do not feel pain during of after self mutilation. Self-mutilating behaviors include cutting, carving, burning of the skin,eye gouging and even amputation of body parts.


VI. Ways to measure pain thresholds

a. Thermal Pain Stimulator (TPS)

i. Researchers held a 75 watt light bulb 7cm from the patient'swrist.

ii. Researchers tested to see how long individuals could standthe pain.

b. Submaximal Effort Tourniquet Test (SETT)

i. Researchers rapped a tourniquet around the patient's arm andhad them hold their arm up while squeezing an object over andover.

ii. Researchers measured how long they could continue thistask.

VII. Ambiguity in the cause of increased painsensitivity.

Possible causes include:

a. There is an alteration in the melatonin levels.

b. Patients are "hypnotized" and therefore cannot feel pain.

c. Intense concentration induces numbing and relieves the risingtension that should be associated with intentional starvation,induced vomiting, or self mutilating behaviors.

d. The previous physical state of patients causes increased painsensitivity.

e. Patients who were overweight before they developed their eatingdisorder may have higher pain thresholds.

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