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Side Effects of Bulimia Nervosa - Kidney Damage or Failure

Updated on September 22, 2011

The proper functioning of the kidneys is vital for removing blood impurities and making sure that our bodies’ organs get pure, oxygenated blood by helping to filter it. The kidneys are also responsible for regulating blood pressure, maintaining salt and water balance, regulating electrolyte balance and excretion of ammonium and urea from the system. Clearly the kidneys are very crucial organs in the body and one of the effects of bulimia is damage to the kidneys and in extreme cases kidney failure.

A 52 year old woman who battled an eating disorders for 26 years and finally died from sepsis and pneumonia was found to have very severe, “end-stage kidney” damage. It was seen that the bulimia nervosa was responsible for severe and extensive kidney damage, or what the clinicians described as “hypokalemic nephropathy and diffuse glomerulosclerosis”.

I recognize the clinical terms above may mean nothing to most people (they didn’t to me at first) and may sound like a bunch of indecipherable medical mumbo jumbo. But the fact remains that bulimia was the causes of this woman’s tragic death. Bulimia may be destroying your kidneys right now. After living with bulimia for 20 years, I can personally attest to some of the dreadful effects of bulimia on your health and wellbeing. Some types of kidney damage may be permanent and irreversible so beware before you do permanent damage to your body.

The Physical Effects of Bulimia on Health

Damage to the Digestive System – The normal passage and digestion of food consumed is routinely interrupted by purging – either by inducing vomiting or using laxatives, purgatives and diuretics. This can mean that the bowel’s functioning and tone can be damaged, the stomach could develop ulcers and eventually kidney damage can occur, as well.

The effects of bulimia interrupt the normal working of the digestive system. Digestion can become really chaotic when the body starts to adapt to the compulsive overeating. To compensate for all of the purging, the body starts to retain food in the stomach longer. It has been found that bulimics may retain food in the stomach for as long as 24 hours when in the usual course the stomach is emptied within about 2 hours.

Malnutrition and Dehydration – Since bulimics purge frequently, this can cause depletion of potassium, sodium and other chemicals in the body leading to electrolyte imbalance and dehydration. Dehydration over a longer period of time can eventually lead to kidney failure.  Similarly, the body does not absorb other essential nutrients causing malnutrition and exacerbating kidney damage.

Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Problems – These are also consequences of bulimia that damage the kidneys.

Kidney damage can manifest the effects of bulimia in many different ways; lethargy, sleepiness, fatigue, weakness and lack of energy are just a few examples. The body may start to retain fluid (edema) that results in bloating and swelling of the arms and legs. There could be a decrease in urine frequency and change in color. There could be weight fluctuations, a loss of appetite and abnormal bowel movements. Headaches, muscular problems, anemia, increase in blood pressure, and even a slowing down of the thought process may all be signs that the bulimia is impacting and damaging the kidneys.


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