What Effects Does Bulimia Nervosa Have in the Long Term?

Bulimia nervosa is a well-known type of eating disorder that centers around repeating episodes of binge eating, followed by compensatory purging behaviors. The purging behaviors are most often some form of self-induced vomiting, but they are often combined with excessive exercise, fasting, and laxative abuse. Both binge eating episodes and the following behaviors can result in several different physical effects on the body, some very serious.

The physical side effects of bulimia nervosa can become dangerous if the behavioral symptoms go untreated, making early intervention important for long-term physical and mental recovery. As parents and family members help their loved ones look for the best nearby bulimia nervosa recovery programs, it is important to keep these many long-term side effects in mind.  Ideally, they can find a program that emphasizes both psychiatric and medical care. A treatment program that ignores either aspect, i.e. only physical treatment or only counseling, won’t be nearly as effective as an integrated one.

Common Bulimia Nervosa Side Effects

While most people are familiar with some of the physical signs of bulimia nervosa that are related to frequent vomiting – like bad breath, frequent sore throats, and facial swelling – many long-term health effects are not quite as immediate and might necessitate a doctor’s diagnosis to identify. Tooth decay is especially common in longstanding cases of bulimia nervosa, due to the repeated cycle of self-induced vomiting to get rid of calories taken in during a meal or binge eating episode. This is because the content of the stomach is usually highly acidic and over time, these acids can break down the tooth enamel.

Other common short-term health effects of bulimia nervosa, which are related to not only vomiting but also over-exercising and laxative abuse include:

  • Severe Dehydration
  • Heart Arrhythmia
  • Constipation and Other Gastrointestinal Issues
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Dry Skin
  • Increased Risk of Stroke

These kinds of symptoms are good early indicators of a bulimia nervosa disorder beginning to develop, and it’s important to catch it early on. Early intervention is key for a good bulimia nervosa prognosis.

The Long-Term Effects of Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa recovery is not only important for one’s mental health but their physical health as well. The long-term effects of bulimia nervosa are very serious and even more dangerous than the short-term ones, and several can lead to chronic health issues and even premature death. If left untreated, the repeated stresses on the body and mind of ballooning weight and nutritional purging can result in various health concerns. These include:

  • Bone Weakness – If the body does not get enough nutrients, the bones are unable to fully develop the right amount of mineral density. As a result, people with bulimia nervosa are at a much higher risk of osteoporosis, a degenerative bone disease usually found only in senior women.
  • Electrolyte Imbalances – Frequent vomiting and the resultant loss of fluids can result in severe electrolyte imbalances. Untreated electrolyte imbalances can have a hugely negative effect on heart function and in many cases, leads to a higher risk of a heart attack. Heart failure is one of the most common causes of death related to bulimia nervosa, making troubles with electrolyte balance potentially deadly.
  • Suicide – The rate of suicide among people with bulimia nervosa (and other eating disorders) is more than twice as high as the same rate among the general population. Depression and major anxiety disorders often come hand-in-hand with bulimia nervosa, so people getting intensive bulimia nervosa treatment may need a suicide watch.
  • Disruption or Loss of Menstrual Cycle – Women with bulimia nervosa are at great risk of experiencing infrequent menstrual periods with a condition known as oligomenorrhea. This complex psychiatric disorder is caused by poor nutrition and can affect fertility. In fact, even those who are in bulimia nervosa recovery may find that it takes some time for their periods to return to normal and they can conceive.

Bulimia Nervosa Treatment Methodology at Oliver-Pyatt Centers 

Bulimia nervosa, being a complex psychiatric disorder, requires highly specialized treatment to secure the best outcomes. At Oliver-Pyatt Centers, one of the nation’s leading eating disorder treatment centers we prioritize the following:

  • A Highly Customized Treatment Plan –Every individual that comes to Oliver-Pyatt Centers is seen as a human being first. We know they come to us with their own psychological and medical histories, life circumstances, fear, goals, and motivation.  Every aspect of our eating disorder treatment, from goals to meal planning, family work to aftercare planning, is tailored to meet the particular needs of the individual and their recovery.
  • Thorough Medical and Psychiatric Care– The medical team at Oliver-Pyatt Centers is integrally involved in residential care through daily interaction with patients throughout their stay and communication with the clinical and nutrition teams. Patients are treated by a psychiatrist and a nurse practitioner, and receive nursing and medical assessments and lab work when indicated. Additionally, we specialize in the psychiatric and medical management of co-occurring disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders, trauma, PTSD, and addiction which affect many of the patients we treat.
  • High-Frequency Individual Psychotherapy – At Oliver-Pyatt Centers, psychotherapy sessions occur with high frequency throughout each client’s stay, establishing a relationship of trust, collaboration, and hope between the patient and their therapist that will continue through all levels of care. This allows for full exploration of the core issues driving the eating disorder and the building of a roadmap for authentic and long-term recovery. A clients therapist will stay with them from residential through day treatment programming
  • Intimate Recovery Environment and High Staff-to-Client Ratio – Our programs are beautifully and comfortably decorated and are located in safe, suburban neighborhoods. Our multidisciplinary treatment team includes recovery coaches who assist residential patients in all aspects of daily living, providing mentorship, guidance, and affirmation. Our primary therapists maintain a manageable caseload that allows for extensive communication with the family and outpatient providers. We believe this environment encourages our patients to significantly connect to every member of their treatment team and helps them do the difficult work of recovery.
  • Daily Supported Exposure Therapy – We integrate residential patients into real life through guided outings in the community from the earliest appropriate stage in their recovery process. Meals are prepared by our private chefs and reintroduce a wide variety of tastes, textures, and cuisines. Served in a family setting with staff support and encouragement, meals at Oliver-Pyatt Centers emphasize the sociability and warmth of eating with others. We believe this approach helps approximate real-life living and dining experiences and is a key factor in relapse prevention.
  • Comprehensive Continuum of Careand Extensive Aftercare Planning – In addition to residential treatment, we offer day treatment to support clients as they build on their progress and work toward increased freedom from the eating disorder. When a client is ready to fully leave our care, we provide a detailed aftercare plan that addresses their ongoing treatment and recovery needs. We develop the plan based on a thorough assessment of the biopsychosocial environment the client will face upon their return home, factoring in family dynamics, spirituality, and individual life goals. Strategies for academic reintegration are included in the aftercare plans for our clients returning to school. We believe a gradual progression to independence allows our clients to embody their recovery more fully.

Seeking Treatment for Bulimia Nervosa

While there are many potentially life-threatening health effects associated with bulimia nervosa, with proper treatment and continued care, it is possible to enjoy a successful recovery. Depending on the severity of the condition, it may be necessary for patients to seek treatment in a facility that offers both medical and psychiatric care – so seek out a facility that considers this. Early intervention is the best indicator of success, so if you or a loved one is struggling with bulimia nervosa or another eating disorder, don’t hesitate – seek out treatment options as soon as you can.

With 20 years of behavioral health business development experience, Carrie combines world-class marketing, media, public relations, outreach and business development with a deep understanding of client care and treatment. Her contributions to the world of behavioral health business development – and particularly eating disorder treatment – go beyond simple marketing; she has actively developed leaders for her organizations and for the industry at large.