SHOCKING figures show that the number of hospital admissions for eating disorders have doubled in the last six years, with almost 14,000 patients needing inpatient treatment in the year to April 2017.

While there will be much comment on why this has happened, with arguments about lack of care close to home resulting in people suffering unnecessarily and ending up in a crisis situation, I would like to steer clear of this thorny debate, and rather concentrate on the practical aspects of a group of diseases that are a mental health issue, rather than lifestyle choices.

The three main eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. There will also be people who do not exactly fit into any one of these classifications, but whose symptoms are no less serious.

In anorexia, sufferers deliberately starve themselves in order to reduce their weight. Excessively exercising may also be a feature.

A person with bulimia will tend to gorge themselves, followed by purging. This involves either vomiting or abusing laxatives.

Binge Eating Disorder is somewhat like bulimia; however persons tend not to force themselves to vomit afterwards.

Eating disorders tend to arise in the teenage years and are seven to ten times more common in women. However they do exist in men and indeed may occur at any time of life, sometimes in response to a stressful event such as relationship break-up or bereavement.

We live in a society that idealises being slim. Some people feel that the only way they can exert control over their lives is through their relationship with food, and eating disorders often exist with other mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

Having a relative with an eating disorder is a risk factor as is suffering sexual abuse as a child.

RECOGNISING someone with an eating disorder, be that a loved one or yourself, is vitally important, as untreated they can lead to long term health consequences and sadly even death.

It is estimated that it takes a sufferer three years before they seek any formal help. Warning signs that you personally may be suffering with an eating disorder include an unhealthy obsession with calorie counting, deliberately starving yourself, exercising to the extreme as well as avoiding social situations that involve food.

If you are vomiting or abusing laxatives these are definite signs that you need to ask for help.

As a relative of someone with a potential eating disorder, please look out for the above, as well as dramatic weight loss and the person often going to the bathroom shortly after eating and returning looking flushed.

The first port of call is definitely your routine GP, who will ask about your eating and exercising habits, as well as taking measurements of your height and weight.

It is important to be honest about your symptoms. Treatment can usually be carried out as an outpatient, although supervised by specialist doctors.

The outlook is promising, and although it may take a long time, currently over half of sufferers recover.