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Advice on Bulimia Nervosa Eating Disorder - Risks and Warning Signs - Health Complications

Bulimia Eating Disorders

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Bulimia Eating Disorder

What is bulimia nervosa
The term, bulimia nervosa, means literally 'the hunger of an ox'. Unfortunately, the hunger that most sufferers feel cannot be satisfied by food alone - it is primarily an emotional need.

People with bulimia consume large amounts of food and then rid their bodies of the excess calories by purging (self-induced vomiting, misuse of laxatives or diuretics) or by non-purging (excessive exercise, fasting) behaviors.

Some bulimics use a combination of purging and non-purging behaviors. The cycle of overeating and purging can quickly become an addictive behavior. Often, the individual will feel a loss of control during over eating and the purging/exercise becomes a way of regaining control.

Varies from person to person
The frequency of these bulimic cycles varies from person to person. Some may experience an episode every few months, while other more serious sufferers may binge and purge several times a day. Indeed, a few may vomit after every meal. Yet again, some will eat socially and be bulimic in private. The attitude of each sufferer to the condition also varies. Many of them deny they have any sort of illness, while others are acutely aware of their situation despite feeling powerless to do anything about it.

Can remain hidden
Because sufferers may not lose weight dramatically, their disorder may be difficult to detect. In fact, even close family members may remain ignorant. It may therefore remain undetected for months, even years. In particular, the sufferer's severe lack of self-confidence will often remain quite invisible. Indeed, people with bulimia may be relatively outgoing and appear quite self-confident, and hold down successful, high-powered jobs. 

Who suffers from bulimia nervosa?
As with anorexia, bulimia typically begins during adolescence. The condition occurs most often in women, but is also found in men. Many people who suffer from bulimia "binge and purge" in secret. They may maintain normal or above normal body weight. Others may experience significant weight fluctuations. Bulimia can occur in those with anorexia nervosa or it can occur as a separate condition. The chances for recovery increase the earlier bulimia nervosa is detected. 

Signs of bulimia 
Include:

  • Evidence of binge-eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in short periods.

  • The existence of wrappers and containers indicating the consumption of large amounts of food.

  • Evidence of purging behaviors, including frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, signs and/or smells of vomiting, presence of wrappers or packages of laxatives or diuretics.

  • Excessive, rigid exercise regimen-the feeling to "burn off" calories taken in despite weather, fatigue, illness, or injury.

  • Unusual swelling of the cheeks or jaw area.

  • Calluses on the back of the hands and knuckles from self-induced vomiting.

  • Discoloration or staining of the teeth.

  • Irregular periods.

  • Lethargy and tiredness.

  • Creation of complex lifestyle schedules or rituals to make time for binge-and-purge sessions.

  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities.

  • Shoplifting for food; abnormal amounts of money spent on food.

  • Food disappearing unexpectedly.

  • In general, behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns.

What are the medical consequences of bulimia?
Bulimia can be extremely harmful to the body. The type of purging behavior used can have varied effects on different body systems.

  • Most complications of bulimia result from electrolyte (salt in the blood) imbalance or trauma from repeated purging behaviors.

  • Self-induced vomiting can erode tooth enamel, increase dental cavities, and create a sensitivity of the teeth to hot or cold food. Swelling and soreness in the salivary glands (cheek area) can occur.

  • Also, repeat vomiting can result in irritation and tears in the lining of the throat, esophagus, and stomach (ulcers).

  • The misuse of laxatives and diuretics results in the loss of sodium and potassium that can damage the heart muscle, increasing the risk for irregular heartbeats, heart failure, and/or death.

  • Also, misuse of laxatives can result in chronic irregular bowel movements and constipation.

How is bulimia treated?
The treatment of bulimia should address both physical and psychological needs of the person. The ultimate outcome of treatment is to restore physical health and normal eating patterns. Many times treatment is undertaken by a team of medical, nutritional, and mental health professionals to evaluate the severity and meaning of the symptoms and to both prescribe and provide care. It is essential that team members communicate regularly about the patient and clarify their roles in treatment on an ongoing basis, to the patient and the family, as well as to each other.

Specific eating disorders
For details, click Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating.

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