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Characteristics of Bulimia Nervosa Continued

Bridget Engel, Psy.D., edited by Kathryn Patricelli, MA Updated: Feb 23rd 2017

Health Problems

medical tools The medical complications related to bulimia are very serious. Many of the physical side effects are the result of chronic vomiting, which causes:

  • infected and swollen salivary glands
  • stomach ulcers
  • reflux disease
  • broken blood vessels
  • sore cheeks

People with bulimia can inhale foreign matter, typically vomit, into the lungs. This causes damage to lung tissue, pneumonia, shock, and/or respiratory disease. Tearing or rupturing of the esophagus (part of the throat) and stomach can also occur due to the pressure of binge eating and vomiting. This can cause serious, life-threatening medical problems. A metabolic imbalance of pH levels in the blood and body fluids (called alkalosis), causes symptoms ranging from slowed breathing to coma. Gum disease, destruction of the enamel on teeth, and sensitivity to hot and cold can also result. Many people with bulimia have skin abrasions on their knuckles from making themselves vomit.

The use of laxatives and diuretics also has long-term and serious side effects including:

  • constipation
  • dehydration
  • diarrhea
  • bloating
  • abdominal cramping
  • hemorrhoids
  • irregular bowel movements

Some of these symptoms may take a long time to reduce once treatment begins.

Not getting enough vitamins and minerals in the diet and severe weight loss cause changes in electrolyte levels. Electrolytes are electrically charged chemicals in your blood and cells that help to keep your heart and body functioning properly. Imbalances can cause tiredness, overall weakness, confusion, decreased concentration, and even seizures. Electrolyte problems and hormone imbalances can also lead to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (insomnia). A deficiency in potassium can cause reduced reflexes, tiredness and heart abnormalities.

Heart problems are the leading cause of death among those with bulimia. Many experience dizziness, irregular blood pressure, and abnormal heart beat.


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