Bulimia Nervosa

By Wendy Innes. May 7th 2016

Bulimia nervosa, known simply as bulimia, is one of the more common eating disorders in the United States where it is estimated that 24 million people suffer from an eating disorder. Here you will find all the information you need to understand bulimia.

What Is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which people binge on food and then have feelings of guilt and loss of control. They then use various methods of purging to prevent weight gain, including laxative abuse and forced vomiting. Many people who are bulimic also suffer from anorexia nervosa, another very serious eating disorder.

The majority of people who suffer from bulimia are women, with only 10-to-15 percent of those with bulimia being men. It is estimated that half of those who suffer from an eating disorder also fit the criteria for depression. However, only 1 in 10 people who suffer from an eating disorder will get treatment.

Unlike anorexia, it can be extremely difficult to identify someone as a bulimic simply by looking at them. While anorexics are identified by their severely underweight bodies, bulimics can be underweight, normal or overweight.


There are many symptom associated with bulimia. On their own, some of these symptoms might not seem very serious, but when combined with other symptoms they can be quite dangerous.

  • Eating uncontrollably and then purging by any means
  • Vomiting in an effort to lose weight
  • Abusing laxatives and diuretics in order to lose weight
  • Using bathroom frequently after meals
  • Excessive exercising
  • Preoccupation with weight and body image
  • Dental problems
  • Sore throat
  • Depression
  • Mood Swings
  • Feeling out of control
  • Swollen glands in the face and/or neck
  • Heartburn
  • Irregular Periods
  • Indigestion
  • Weakness
  • Bloating
  • Exhaustion
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Overachieving behavior

Causes And Risk Factors

The exact cause of bulimia is unknown. It is thought that it could be a combination of several risk factors, including genetics, psychological history, trauma, family, society and cultural environment.

Some believe that the body images that are portrayed in media and popular culture play a role in the development of bulimia nervosa in some people. Since the images often portray ideal beauty as something unrealistic for most people, those who already have problems with depression and self-image issues may develop bulimia in an effort to try and reach this unrealistic ideal.


It is difficult to "cure" bulimia. There are a number of treatment options available, but unfortunately, very few people with bulimia seek treatment. This is likely due to shame since those with bulimia are usually aware that their binging and purging habits are abnormal.

Many doctors believe that a multi-faceted approach to treatment is best. This could include things like group therapy, individual psychotherapy, inpatient treatment and medication for depression, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs for short.

Therapy can be very emotionally painful. One reason that treating bulimia can be so difficult is that those with bulimia and their families have unrealistic expectations and are unprepared for the amount of hard work involved. In order for treatment to be successful, patients need to be well-informed in advance.

The prognosis for those with bulimia varies based on a number of factors. Depending upon the severity of the problem, the person with bulimia may see a therapist and take depression medication and be fine, or they may suffer relapses and even when the bulimia is under control, they may still have abnormal eating habits. It is common for those with bulimia to try several different treatment methods before they find some degree of success in treatment. There are alternative therapies that can prove helpful in treating bulimia. These include guided imagery, hypnosis, yoga, art therapy and 12-step programs.

If someone has bulimia, it's critical that they get help as soon as possible. There are mental health professionals that specialize in treating eating disorders. If left untreated, bulimia can cause serious long term health problems, and even death.


There are a number of complications associated with bulimia. Just as with the symptoms, some of them may not seem so serious, but when combined they can lead to a decreased quality of life and serious health problems. They include:

  • Dental problems
  • Swelling of the salivary glands caused by repeated vomiting
  • Ulcers
  • Rupture of the stomach or esophagus
  • Bowel disruption
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Dehydration
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart attack
  • Lower libido
  • High risk of suicide
  • Constipation
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Throat inflammation
  • Permanent esophagus damage
  • Pancreatitis

Speedy treatment can give those with bulimia hope for a better life, provided that they are prepared for the painful road ahead of them. It is vital for those with bulimia to have a solid support system from family, friends or other support groups. The right combination of treatments and mediation can help bulimics return to a more normal life and better health.


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