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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.
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
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
- Menstrual problems
- Swollen cheeks and jaw
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands in the mouth and throat
- 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
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
|Bulimia can lead to severe heart problems.|
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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
Bulimia Nervosa Resource Guide for Family and Friends
National Eating Disorders Association
Canadian Mental Health Association
National Eating Disorder Information Center
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.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD
- Review Date: 09/2020
- Update Date: 11/18/2020