Can Dietitians Diagnose?

Understanding the Role of Dietitians

Registered dietitian nutritionists are healthcare professionals who specialize in nutrition and dietary management. They are trained to provide evidence-based nutrition guidance and help manage various health conditions through medical nutrition therapy.

Can Dietitians Diagnose Medical Conditions?

No, dietitians cannot diagnose patients with medical conditions. Dietitians are knowledgeable about the criteria for diagnosing nutrition-related diseases, such as obesity and eating disorders, but providing the diagnosis is not within a dietitian’s scope of practice. 

Nutrition Diagnosis

While dietitians cannot provide a medical diagnosis, they can provide a nutrition diagnosis. Nutrition diagnoses are made by dietitians as part of the nutrition care process.

Examples of nutrition diagnoses:

  • Excessive energy intake
  • Inadequate fluid intake
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Food-medication interaction
  • Involuntary weight loss
  • Food- and nutrition-related knowledge deficit

These nutrition diagnoses are then used, along with their supporting etiology and signs and symptoms, to create what is known as a PES statement. PES statements are written in the following format:

[Problem/nutrition diagnosis] related to [Etiology], as evidenced by [Signs/symptoms].

Example PES statements:

  • Excessive energy intake related to frequent consumption of sweetened beverages, as evidenced by 15 pound weight gain in the last year.
  • Swallowing difficulty related to esophageal stricture, as evidenced by patient report and swallow evaluation report.

Nutrition Diagnosis Versus Medical Diagnosis

A nutrition diagnosis is created by a nutrition professional to describe a nutrition-related issue. It can generally be resolved, or at least improved, through a nutrition intervention. A medical diagnosis is generally made by a physician to describe the pathology of a medical condition or disease.

Here are some examples of medical diagnoses and their corresponding nutrition diagnoses:

  • If the medical diagnosis is dehydration, a potential nutrition diagnosis could be inadequate fluid intake. 
  • If the medical diagnosis is cancer, the nutrition diagnosis may be inadequate energy intake, swallowing difficulty or involuntary weight loss.

Can Dietitians Help Manage Medical Diagnoses?

While dietitians cannot diagnose medical conditions, they can help manage various conditions as part of the healthcare team. Some diagnoses that dietitians can help with include:

  • Celiac disease
  • Obesity
  • Hypertension
  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Diabetes
  • Failure to thrive
  • Irritable bowel syndrome


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