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Bulimia Nervosa Health Center

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Understanding Bulimia: The Basics

What Is Bulimia? continued...

A bulimic's overall health depends on how often she binges and purges. She may vomit occasionally (once a month) or very frequently (many times a day). The health consequences generally relate to the purging and not the binge eating. Physical repercussions include menstrual abnormalities, inflammation of the stomach, pancreas, or esophagus, enlarged salivary glands, vomiting blood, and tooth decay and gum disease from vomiting stomach acids. Frequent self-induced vomiting also depletes the water and potassium in bodily tissues, causing abnormal heart rhythms, seizures, muscle spasms, and even paralysis. In severe cases, some of these physical problems can lead to death. Another danger is suicidal depression.

Bulimia is a real illness. Once it develops, you probably cannot control it without help. And although family or friends may think they are trying to help by warning you about your habits, such criticism usually isn't helpful on its own and may even contribute to unhappiness or being more secretive. Support from your family and friends can help, but you need professional treatment to get better.

What Causes Bulimia?

Pressures and conflicts within the family are thought to be the primary cause of this eating disorder. If you have bulimia, it's likely you're an overachiever and perfectionist and feel you can't live up to the expectations of your parents, family, or peers.

You may have problems with:

  • Self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Having been physically or sexually abused as a child

About half of all bulimics report a history of abuse.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on February 27, 2015
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