How Bulimia Nervosa Affects The Body

GinaMarie Guarino, LMHC

How Bulimia Nervosa Affects The Body

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that has serious medical and physical health consequences. A patient who is bulimic will engage in behavior to prevent weight gain. He or she will struggle with self-esteem and self-image. There will be destructive behavior that has an effect on the patient’s overall health.

A patient with bulimia nervosa will engage in binging and purging. Binging is eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time, typically within about two hours. The patient will continue to eat even after he or she has become uncomfortably full. This indulgent behavior will leave the patient feeling guilty and anxious. These feelings result in purging.

Purging is the act of expelling calories and food consumed during a binge. Purging can be performed several different ways:

  • Misuse of laxatives
  • Inducing vomiting
  • Misuse of diet pills or diuretics

Bulimia nervosa has a negative impact on the patient’s overall health. The act of purging has medical consequences because it causes stomach acid to be pushed throughout the body. It also causes strain on the stomach muscles and internal organs as the muscles forcefully retract when vomiting and other purging efforts are induced. Common immediate side effects of binging and purging include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Sore throat
  • Tooth decay and gum disease
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue and muscle exhaustion
  • Acid reflux
  • Heartburn
  • Swelling of the mouth, cheeks and jaw
  • Constipation or diarrhea from overuse of diuretics, laxatives, and diet pills

These side effects cause discomfort for the patient. They also serve as warning signs for more serious and prolonged health consequences. Such health consequences include:

  • Torn esophagus and stomach lining, causing blood in vomit and excretions
  • Kidney and liver damage
  • Hemorrhoids (Inflammation of the rectum and anus, causing pain and blood in stool.)
  • Infertility
  • Amenorrhea (Absence of a menstrual cycle)

The most serious health consequence of bulimia nervosa is heart failure. Regurgitating food consumed creates issues with the body’s circulatory system. When food is regurgitated the body cannot absorb the nutrients it needs from foods. This deprivation of nutrients results in serious heart and blood issues, like anemia and irregular heartbeat. If left unaddressed the complications can cause heart failure. Heart failure is the result of low blood pressure, low levels of electrolytes and low levels of potassium in the body.

Bulimia nervosa has the potential to develop into anorexia nervosa. The superficial goal of bulimic behavior is to prevent weight gain. People with bulimia are not underweight and do not restrict their diets as severely as those with anorexia nervosa. The indicative factor that the condition has progressed to anorexia nervosa is low body weight. Once the patient’s body mass index (BMI) reaches a level below average he or she is at risk for developing anorexia.

Anorexia is a serious condition that causes the patient to restrict his or her diet and engage in excessive measures to prevent weight gain. Anorexia puts the patient at risk for serious medical issues, including heart failure and sudden death.

It is important to treat bulimia nervosa at early stages of the disorder. Bulimia nervosa is a mental health condition that needs attention from mental health professionals. If you feel you may be suffering from bulimia nervosa speak to your doctor or mental health professional about intervention.

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