What is bulimia nervosa?
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by food binges and feelings of inability to control eating followed by episodes of compensation, which may include excessive exercise, fasting, laxative or diuretic use, or vomiting. Some people who have bulimia also have anorexia nervosa, which is characterized by distorted body image, emaciation, fear of weight gain, and self-starvation. People who have bulimia are more frequently of normal weight, but have similar fears regarding weight gain and unhappiness with their body size and shape.
Mental Health Spotlight
Guilt and feelings of disgust are common. Bulimic behaviors are often done secretly, which can make bulimia nervosa difficult to recognize. Other symptoms may include bowel problems; cuts and calluses on the hands and fingers; dehydration; indigestion; sore throat; swollen salivary glands; tooth decay, wear and sensitivity from vomiting; and upset stomach. Coexisting psychological problems, such as anxiety, depression, or drug and alcohol abuse, are common.
The cause of bulimia nervosa is not known, but it is probably related to an interaction of factors, such as genetics, environment, culture, trauma, and psychological and family issues. Bulimia occurs more commonly in adolescent and young adult women than in men or other age groups.
Severe or complicated bulimia nervosa may initially require hospitalization; otherwise, initial outpatient therapy may be an option. Mild bulimia may respond well to support groups. If they are not helpful, a combination of cognitive-behavioral and nutrition therapy is often recommended. If therapy alone is not enough, medications, such as antidepressants, may also be recommended. Bulimia can be difficult to treat; treatment is most successful in early, uncomplicated bulimia.
Bulimia nervosa is a serious medical condition with potentially life-threatening complications, including abnormal heart rhythms, electrolyte disturbances, esophageal tears, severe dehydration, and stomach rupture. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure; cold and clammy skin; confusion or loss of consciousness for even a moment; decreased urine output; irregular heart rate (arrhythmia); pale skin or pallor; profuse sweating; rapid breathing (tachypnea); rapid heart rate (tachycardia); seizure; severe abdominal pain; vomiting blood, rectal bleeding, or bloody stool; or weakness (loss of strength). Immediate medical care is also warranted for concerns about being a danger to oneself or others.
Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for bulimia nervosa but symptoms recur or are persistent.
What are the symptoms of bulimia nervosa?
People who have bulimia nervosa have episodes where they feel they are unable to control their eating, which are typically followed by periods of self-disgust and efforts to compensate for overeating. Normal weight and secretive bingeing and purging can make it difficult for others to recognize what is occurring; however, vomiting and using medications to lose weight or encourage bowel movements can create other symptoms.... Read more about bulimia nervosa symptoms
What causes bulimia nervosa?
The cause of bulimia nervosa is not known, but it is probably related to an interaction of factors, such as genetics, environment, culture, trauma, and psychological and family issues. Bulimia nervosa occurs more commonly in adolescent and young adult women than in men or other age groups.... Read more about bulimia nervosa causes
How is bulimia nervosa treated?
Mild bulimia nervosa may respond well to support groups; otherwise, bulimia is typically treated with a combination of psychotherapy and nutrition therapy. Severe or complicated bulimia may require initial hospitalization. If your bulimia does not improve sufficiently with psychotherapy and nutrition therapy, antidepressants may be added and may prove to have significant benefit.... Read more about bulimia nervosa treatments