The Risks of Physical Harm Arising out of Bulimia

 It seems counterintuitive to think about how many people are willing to put their emotional and physical health at risk in order to lose weight when one of the main reasons that people state for wanting to lose weight is to improve their health and feel better about themselves. — Alexis Conason Psy.D.

Bulimia nervosa is regarded as a serious eating disorder where the patient indulges in successive phases of bingeing, gorging on food, and purging or regurgitating with the aim of keeping self extremely lean. Though bulimia apparently is associated with recurring cycles of eating excessively and then dieting or starving, there’s much more to the eating disorder than you might think. Bulimia can play havoc with one’s physical and mental well-being, and in the worst case scenario, lead to the patient’s death.

This eating disorder takes a tremendous toll not only on the patient’s physical well being but also on his mental health. Bulimics, are more often than not, diagnosed with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), anxiety disorder, and depression. They are subjected to extreme irritability and mood swings owing to malnutrition, lack of sleep, dehydration caused by electrolyte imbalance, IBS, and other issues.


Physical Side Effects

Following are some of the adverse side effects arising out of Bulimia


Electrolyte Imbalances and Abnormalities

As a bulimic patient usually escapes to the bathroom to vomit after a round of bingeing, he or she loses a high amount of fluids leading to electrolyte imbalance. Owing to electrolyte imbalance, the patient’s body becomes deficient of vital minerals including sodium, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Abnormal decreases in the levels of these minerals or electrolytes can lead to chemical imbalances ultimately causing a heart attack or malfunctioning of other bodily organs.

Eating disorders are highly comorbid with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the  functional nutritional treatment  for both is very similar. — Leslie E. Korn Ph.D., MPH, LMHC, ACS, NTP

Digestive and intestinal issues

Both binge eating and purging causes a heavy strain on the digestive system and metabolism of the bulimic individual. All organs associated with digestion and ingestion starting from the teeth, tongue, esophagus, and stomach to liver, kidney, and intestines are overworked as abnormal amounts of food have to be broken down for assimilation. Additionally, self-induced regurgitation leads to further straining of these organs.

Initially, the patient will experience abdominal pains, heartburns, bloating, and stomach cramps. In the long run, it is not unusual for the bulimic to be diagnosed with peptic or gastric ulcers, tooth decay, enamel erosion, and gingivitis. Long-term laxative and emetic abuse leads to diarrhea, constipation, and rupturing of the esophageal wall. GERD or acid reflux also has the potential of damaging the small and large intestines, trigger blood vomiting, and cause distended salivary glands.


Unfavorable effects on the circulatory system

Purging on a recurrent basis results in undue loss of fluids and electrolytes like potassium, sodium, and calcium eventually causing dehydration. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance causes the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and tissues to become weak leading to muscle cramps. All these issues have a bearing on the normal functioning of the heart making the blood pumping and purifying organ to miss regular heartbeats-a medical condition termed arrhythmia.

Arrhythmic pulsations put a heavy stress on the heart, and in the worst case scenario, lead to a heart attack because of fatigued cardiac muscles. On the other hand if the patient is severely dehydrated, he or she might lose consciousness or faint, may suffer falls, feel dizzy, and over time, the kidneys might get damaged permanently. Bulimia nervosa may cause optic blood vessels to rupture, lead to hypertension and anemia.


Integumentary system takes a beating as well

The side effects of bulimia are across-the-board and does not even spare the organs categorized under integumentary system, like the nails, skin, and the hairs. Dehydration resulting from periodic spells of regurgitation leads to a decreased level of water in the body which implies that all bodily organs including the nails and the hairs have to make do with less water. Consequently, hairs dry up and turn frizzy, the skin wrinkles, and the nails become brittle.


 And the reproductive system also

Bulimic individuals deprive their bodies of essential nutrients, causing hormonal imbalance eventually leading to decreased appetite for coitus. Pregnant and lactating women continuing with their binging and purging behaviors also face several complications.

Anyone who is has an eating disorder is very invested in maintaining the thoughts and behaviors that fuel it, so when a loved one expresses concern they may be met with anger or defensiveness. — Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C, DAPA


Bulimia nervosa, despite its severity, is very much treatable. However, bulimics need to be very patient as the treatment process is long drawn, spread over a period of 3-6 months. A combination of treatment plans including behavioral and cognitive therapies, medications, and interpersonal therapies needs to be resorted to for healing.