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Side Effects of Bulimia Nervosa - An Overview

Updated on September 21, 2011
The side effects of bulimia can be very dangerous to your health even though on the surface, you may appear completely healthy.
The side effects of bulimia can be very dangerous to your health even though on the surface, you may appear completely healthy.

As a person who lived with an eating disorder for two decades, I know that the side effects of bulimia can be very dangerous to your health. On the surface, you may appear completely healthy.  And in truth, the side effects may not be evident in the short term, but the long term effects can actually put you in serious physical danger.

Eating disorders take different forms and are bad for your health in different ways. Anorexics subject themselves to severe starvation. Bulimics are subject to episodes of binging and purging. Purging the calories is done by inducing vomiting, compulsive exercise, the use of laxatives, or any combination of these techniques.

The Negative Effects of Bulimia:

Organ damage – The nutritional deficiencies that disordered eating inevitably cause results in damage to several of the body's organs. The kidneys suffer due the mineral imbalances that constant bulimic behavior puts on them. The imbalance of electrolytes in the system could lead to heart problems and in extreme cases even death. Out of control binging and purging will cause blood pressure issues and blood sugar imbalances.  Enlarged glands in the neck and enlargement of the salivary glands are also common fallout of regularly purging after eating.

The hormonal fluctuations that occur as a result of disordered eating could manifest in many different ways and negatively impact multiple organs in the body. The senses are often distorted for bulimics  causing cravings for unusual and bizarre food combinations.   Over time, bulimics can lose their ability to recognize the feeling of hunger or to feel satisfied and full after eating.

Deterioration of teeth and bones – Bad breath and the deterioration of teeth is one of the most easily recognizable effects of bulimia and the dentist is often the first to identify the signs of bulimia. Due to the constant purging by vomiting, stomach acids attack teeth enamel, corroding it and destroying the teeth slowly.

The bones also bear the brunt of disordered eating. Nutritional imbalances cause the bones to become weak and brittle over time leaving some bulimics and anorexics with osteoporosis later in life. Not only do bulimics have various aches and pains in their bones, they may suffer fractures more easily.

Digestive problems – Since our digestive system is not built for compulsive overeating and subsequent purging, our system can get out of balance. Diarrhea and constipation are common problems. Bloating, stomach pains, acid reflux are additional digestive effects of bulimia.

Then there is the damage that the stomach acids have on the rest of the digestive system. This manifests in the form of ulcers in the stomach and can also include ulcerations in the food pipe, or esophagus. In very extreme cases, a rupture of the esophagus could be one of the most serious symptoms of bulimia. 

Changes in the brain – The effects of bulimia also manifest in changed feelings, emotions and thought patterns. People with eating disorders can be prone to anxiety, depression, and related mental disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder. Thoughts of self harm and even suicide typically torment bulimics. Irresponsible and irrational behavior such as shoplifting and sexual promiscuity may be present.

Fertility problems – Nutritional deficiency often causes irregular periods or a complete absence of monthly periods in women. Needless to say that fertility can deteriorate.  In extreme cases, disordered eating could cause irreparable harm to the reproductive system.

Premature aging of skin – When the skin is not able to get the kind of nourishment that it needs, it starts to age prematurely. Skin can appear lifeless and dull. It can become lined, loose, and saggy well before its time.

Skin dryness and irritation, loss of skin and muscle tone, hair loss and brittle nails can also contribute to a woman looking old way before her time. In some cases, soft, fine hair could start to grow all over the body. This is known as lanugo, and is the body’s defense mechanism designed to keep the body warm.

In conclusion, the bulimia side effects are very real and very dangerous. The longer the disorder is allowed to persist, the worse the after effects of bulimia are likely to be. Don’t wait 20 years like I did. Get help for bulimia right now and reclaim your health. 

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