Also known as: bulimia nervosa, binging and purging, eating disorder

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is a type of eating disorder where children/adolescents (especially girls) will have episodes of uncontrollable overeating (binge eating).

Episodes may occur a couple of times a week, once a day, or many times a day. During the episodes large amounts of food are consumed in a short time (frequently less than 2 hours). Bouts of bulimia usually last for 3 months.

Often these episodes are followed by self-induced vomiting. Purging or using laxatives/enemas or other ways to control their weight like fasting or using medications to increase urine output.

Bulimia affects both sexes, all ages, across all socioeconomic and racial groups.

What causes bulimia? 

Bulimia does not have a single cause but results from the interaction of many things, like social attitudes to body appearance, family influences, genetics, neurochemical and developmental factors, personal or family history of substance abuse and perhaps other factors which make the child vulnerable to develop and continue this eating disorder.

What are the symptoms of bulimia?

Typically those with bulimia tend to be young female adolescents, with typically low-normal body weight, recurrent binge eating and purging. They tend to be hard-working, impulsive, introverted, self-critical with low self-esteem based on body image, who binge eat to reduce their anxiety and stress levels to give them a feeling of being in control of at least one part of their lives. Over time these feelings cause them to feel more anxious, with resulting shame, guilt and depression and preoccupation with their weight.

Over time, bulimia can lead to problems such as:

  • Tooth decay
  • Problems with bowel movements
  • Burst blood vessels from vomiting
  • Damage to internal organs
  • Nutritional issues that can lead to greater complications.

What are bulimia care options?

Bulimia management is based on the comprehensive evaluation of the individual and family, and often includes some combination of medical care aimed at improving nutrition, individual and family therapy, and cognitive and behavioral modification.

In addition medication may be of benefit. Treatment may take place in an out-patient department/treatment center or in severe cases an inpatient hospital program.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: March 16, 2020 09:39 AM

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