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Bulimia Nervosa

Overview :

Bulimia nervosa is a serious health problem for over two million adolescent girls and young women in the United States. The bingeing and purging activity associated with this disorder can cause severe damage, even death, although the risk of death is not as high as for anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that leads to excessive weight loss.

Binge eating may in rare instances cause the stomach to rupture. In the case of purging, heart failure can result due to loss of vital minerals such as potassium. Vomiting causes other serious problems, including acid-related scarring of the fingers (if used to induce vomiting) and damage to tooth enamel. In addition, the tube that brings food from the mouth to the stomach (the esophagus) often becomes inflamed and salivary glands can become swollen. Irregular menstrual periods can also result, and interest in sex may diminish.


Binge—To consume large amounts of food uncontrollably within a short time period.

Diuretic—A drug that promotes the formation and excretion of urine.

Neurotransmitters—Certain brain chemicals that may function abnormally in acutely ill bulimic patients.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)—A disorder that may accompany bulimia, characterized by the tendency to perform repetitive acts or rituals in order to relieve anxiety.

Purge—To rid the body of food and calories, commonly by vomiting or using laxatives.

Most bulimics find it difficult to stop their behavior without professional help. Many typically recognize that the behavior is not normal, but feel out of control. Some bulimics struggle with other compulsive, risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse. Many also suffer from other psychiatric illnesses, including clinical depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Most bulimics are females in their teens or early 20s. Males account for only 5-10% of all cases. People of all races develop the disorder, but most of those diagnosed are white.

Bulimic behavior is often carried out in secrecy, accompanied by feelings of guilt or shame. Outwardly, many people with bulimia appear healthy and successful, while inside they have feelings of helplessness and low self-esteem.

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