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Side Effects of Bulimia Nervosa - The Cardiovascular System

Updated on October 25, 2011
In most cases, the effects of bulimia can be turned around and many bulimics go on to lead healthy, normal lives.
In most cases, the effects of bulimia can be turned around and many bulimics go on to lead healthy, normal lives.

You have probably heard stories about women who have died from their eating disorder and may have viewed them with some amount of skepticism. Surely the effects of bulimiaand other eating disorders can’t be so extreme, right?

In most cases, bulimia does not end up killing quite simply because most people get help for their condition when they recognize that here is something that could be life threatening. However, bulimia is very dangerous and can lead to death. If left untreated, eating disorders can be fatal in as many as 20% of those who avoid the warning signs.

I was a bulimic for 20 years and I know the effects of bulimia first hand. Some of what I will share I have experienced myself while a lot of this information is widely documented in medical journals. If I manage to prevent another woman from undergoing what I did, then this has made a difference.

The Effects of Bulimia on the Cardiovascular System

Electrolyte Imbalance – Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance is all too familiar to bulimics. It is the constant binging/purging that disturbs the natural balance of the body’s fluids and ions. Minerals such as potassium, chloride and magnesium become depleted and can cause damage to different organs and bones.

After a big binge bulimics will experience physical weakness, lightheadedness and even slower than normal response times after extreme episodes of vomiting.  The effects of bulimia may extend to the body’s organs including the brain.  There could be mental confusion and even seizures, in some cases.

The Results of Electrolyte Imbalance – Constant binging and purging will cause electrolyte imbalance due to low potassium levels, called hypokalemia. Hypokalemia is a serious medical condition.  This disruption of the body’s normal functions can potentially cause extreme muscle weakness that borders on paralysis and fatal disruption of the heart’s normal rhythm.

Another potentially dangerous result of low blood levels of calcium, called hypocalcemia, occurs when bulimics use diuretics.  Usually hypocalcemia does not cause problems to the heart’s rhythm, but can in severe circumstances.  If the problem persists for a long time even mild hypocalcemia robs calcium from the bones and can ultimately lead to osteoporosis later in life.

Cardiac or Respiratory Arrest – This is the most common reason for sudden death in bulimics and the mortality rates for bulimics is believed to be about 3.9%.  In bulimics when there is extremely low potassium or other mineral deficiency the heart suddenly stops beating.  The constant imbalance of electrolytes damages the heart and it becomes weaker over time.  Eventually, it can lead to a heart attack or arrhythmias. 

The good new is that in recovery, in most cases, the effects of bulimia can be turned around and many bulimics go on to lead healthy, normal lives. Reestablishing normal eating patterns means that you have your health back and your heart is safe again.


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