Coronavirus (COVID-19)

COVID-19 Vaccines Please click here for information about COVID-19 vaccines. Mercyhealth Visitor Guidelines Visitor guidelines have changed at some Mercyhealth locations. Please click here... continue reading

Health Library


Return to Index
by Preda A

Bulimia

(Bulimia Nervosa)

Definition

Bulimia is an eating disorder. People with bulimia are overly worried about their weight and body image. They binge and purge their food. Bingeing is eating large amounts of food. Purging is using vomiting, laxatives, or diuretics to get it out of the body. Exercise may be used to replace purging, or it may be used with it. The cycle is done to stop weight gain.

Causes

The cause is not known. It may be due to a mix of genes and the environment.

Risk Factors

Bulimia is more common in young women. Other things that may raise the risk are:
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Wanting to be perfect
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • Not being happy with weight and size
  • Pressure to be thin
  • Having other family members with the same problems
  • Emotional stress
  • Prior obesity or anorexia
  • Having other mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety
  • Substance use disorder
  • A way of life that highlights being thin as ideal

Symptoms

People with bulimia have a normal weight. But, their habits are not healthy.
Bulimia may cause:
  • Eating of large amounts of food at one time
  • Feeling like eating is not in one's control
  • Forced vomiting
  • Taking of laxatives, enemas, diuretics, or diet pills
  • Too much exercise
  • Mood swings
  • Problems with impulse control
  • Misuse of alcohol or other substances
Physical problems may be:
  • Belly pain
  • Heartburn
  • Menstrual problems
  • Swollen cheeks and jaw
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in the mouth and throat
  • Bloating
  • Stained or chipped teeth—because of contact with stomach acid
  • Cuts or scars on back of hands—from scraping skin on teeth during forced vomiting

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will be asked about your eating habits. A physical exam will be done. A mental health exam may also be done.
Other tests may be:
  • Blood tests to look for electrolyte imbalances
  • ECG to check heart function
ECG
Heart EKG
Bulimia can lead to severe heart problems.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to keep weight in a normal range in a healthy way. Choices are:
  • Nutrition counseling and support
  • Mental health counseling methods, such as individual or group cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Vitamins and minerals to promote nutrition
  • Antidepressants to balance brain chemicals

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.

RESOURCES

Bulimia Nervosa Resource Guide for Family and Friends
https://bulimiaguide.org
National Eating Disorders Association
https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Mental Health Association
https://cmha.ca
National Eating Disorder Information Center
http://www.nedic.ca

References

Bulimia nervosa. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/bulimia-nervosa. Accessed November 18, 2020.
Bulimia nervosa. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/psychiatric-disorders/eating-disorders/bulimia-nervosa. Accessed November 18, 2020.
Bulimia nervosa. Office on Women's Health website. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/eating-disorders/bulimia-nervosa. Updated August 28, 2018. Accessed August 31, 2018.
Eating disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml. Updated February, 2016 Accessed August 31, 2018.
Harrington BC, Jimerson M, et al. Initial evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Jan 1;91(1):46-52.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2020
  • Update Date: 11/18/2020
Mercyhealth MyChart Sign In