Bulimia (cont.)

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What medical complications and long-term effects can bulimia have?

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The medical complications that result from bulimia are generally due to continual bingeing and purging. The type of purging behavior used can have varied effects on different body systems.

Self-induced vomiting can result in oral complications. Repeated exposure to acidic gastric contents can erode tooth enamel, increase dental cavities, and create a sensitivity to hot or cold food. Swelling and soreness in the salivary glands (such as the parotid glands in the cheeks) from repeated vomiting can also be a concern.

The esophagus and the colon are the areas most affected by bulimic behaviors. Repeated vomiting can result in ulcers, ruptures, or strictures of the esophagus. Acid that backs up from the stomach (reflux) can also become a problem.

As with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders, irregular menstrual periods or amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods) may result from malnutrition or weight fluctuations associated with bulimia.

There are a number of intestinal and systemic complications. The misuse of diuretics can create an abnormal buildup of fluid (edema). Continual use of laxatives can result in dependency on them and can cause the normal elimination process to become dysfunctional. Loss of normal colonic function can necessitate surgical intervention in some cases. Restoration of normal bowel function may take weeks after the misuse has been discontinued. The misuse of diuretics and laxatives combined can place the bulimic at great risk for electrolyte imbalance, which can have life-threatening consequences. The complex physical and chemical processes involved in the maintenance of life can be disrupted with serious consequences by the continuation of bulimic and purging behaviors. Additional complications can affect an unborn fetus of a practicing bulimic or the infant of an active bulimic mother. Psychological problems can escalate to serious levels if untreated and interfere with the restoration of normal body functions.


United States. National Institute of Mental Health. "Eating Disorders." <http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/28/2014

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