The Role of Eye Health in Anorexia Detection: A Comprehensive Guide

Recent research indicates eye movements could reveal the early signs of anorexia.

What is anorexia?

Anorexia nervosa, often simply known as anorexia, is a critical health disorder that poses severe risks if not adequately addressed and can lead to fatal outcomes.

This condition affects individuals across all genders, ages, ethnic backgrounds, and economic statuses, underscoring its non-discriminatory nature.

Regarded as one of the most severe mental health disorders, anorexia nervosa claims more lives annually than any other psychological condition.

Anorexia by numbers

The following figures highlight the severity of anorexia nervosa:

  • Approximately 9% of people worldwide are affected by anorexia.
  • Suicides account for more than 20% of all fatalities linked to anorexia.
  • Between 33% and 50% of individuals diagnosed with anorexia also experience mood disorders, such as depression and bipolar disorder.
  • Over half of those suffering from anorexia also contend with various anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and social phobias like agoraphobia.

What are the symptoms & signs of anorexia?

One common misconception about anorexia nervosa is the belief that all affected individuals are visibly underweight.

In truth, many people with anorexia may look outwardly healthy yet suffer from severe malnutrition. This highlights the necessity of recognizing the diverse signs and symptoms linked to this eating disorder.

Anorexia nervosa is a serious eating disorder that can result in numerous health and behavioral complications. Key indicators to watch for include:

Medical Symptoms:

  • Notably low body weight
  • Significant weight reduction
  • Slowed heart rate (bradycardia)
  • Irregular menstrual cycles or amenorrhea
  • Low blood pressure and orthostatic hypotension
  • Hair becoming sparse or falling out

Behavioral Signs:

  • Limiting calorie intake severely
  • Preoccupation with food details
  • Newly developed interest in dieting
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Perceiving themselves as overweight despite being underweight
  • Avoiding meals
  • Unusual eating behaviors
  • Denying the severity of their low weight or hunger
  • Over-exercising
  • Withdrawal from social interactions

Understanding these signs is crucial for early intervention and management of anorexia nervosa.

Is there a visual sign of anorexia?


Eye movements have recently been discovered to be a possible sign of anorexia.

If you suspect someone you know has anorexia, contact an eye doctor near you who may be able to help.

Eye movements and anorexia

A recent study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry in September 2021 has identified a potential biomarker for anorexia nervosa. The study, led by experts from Australia’s Swinburne Anorexia Nervosa Research Group, found that monitoring anxiety levels together with a specific type of fast eye movement, known as square wave jerks, could successfully identify people who have or are at risk of developing anorexia nervosa.

Square wave jerks are tiny, unintentional saccadic eye movements that can be identified by checking for brief flickering moments when a person’s eyes stray away from a target they are focusing on. The researchers gathered 80 women to test the validity of this potential biomarker, including 20 women with anorexia nervosa, 20 recovered anorexia nervosa patients at a normal weight, 20 healthy sisters of women with anorexia nervosa, and 20 healthy controls.

The researchers were able to distinguish anorexia nervosa patients from healthy controls with 92.5% accuracy when eye movements were coupled with an anxiety measure known as the State Trait Anxiety Inventory. Surprisingly, there was no difference in square wave jerk rates between anorexia nervosa patients, recovered anorexia nervosa patients, and healthy sisters of anorexia nervosa patients. This strongly suggests that the ailment has a hereditary component.

Researchers hope to be able to utilize eye twitching as a screening tool to identify patients who are at risk of developing anorexia nervosa. This research may allow doctors to screen individuals and provide support to help them avoid this serious disease.

In summary, the study found that monitoring anxiety levels together with square wave jerks, a type of fast eye movement, could successfully identify people who have or are at risk of developing anorexia nervosa. This potential biomarker has the potential to be used as a screening tool to identify patients who are at risk of developing anorexia nervosa, allowing doctors to provide support and prevent the onset of the disease.