Bulimia nervosa is one of the most common eating disorders among adults, and like another common disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa can begin at virtually any age. However, it is most common among adolescents and young adults.
If this disorder is left untreated, it can lead to serious and even potentially fatal complications. For this reason, seeking prompt treatment for bulimia nervosa is essential.
Below is some basic information about bulimia nervosa and how it can be treated effectively.
What Is Bulimia Nervosa?
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder typically characterized by a cycle of binging and purging. Sufferers may purge the food they eat by inducing vomiting, taking laxatives, fasting and/or exercising excessively. To be diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, patients must typically meet the following criteria:
- The individual’s shape or weight has an unreasonable influence on his or her self-evaluation.
- The individual experiences recurrent episodes of binge eating, which involves eating an unreasonable amount of food during a short period of time. During this episode, the individual will feel that he or she cannot control the binging.
- The individual compensates for binging by exercising, fasting, taking medications and/or inducing vomiting.
These behaviors must occur at least once a week for three months to qualify for a diagnosis of bulimia nervosa.
Pathophysiology of Bulimia Nervosa
The precise cause of bulimia nervosa isn’t clear, but researchers believe that this disorder usually develops because of a combination of different biological, environmental and/or psychological factors. The development of this disorder could also be related to societal pressures, such as unrealistic expectations for body weight and shape. Specific bulimia nervosa causes may vary from one person to another.
Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia nervosa symptoms can vary from one patient to the next. Symptoms of this disorder may include:
- Repeated episodes of binging, which means eating an unreasonable amount of food in one sitting.
- Forced purging following an episode of binging.
- Loss of control during episodes of binging.
- Restriction of food intake between binges.
- Unreasonable fear of weight gain.
- Preoccupation with weight and/or body shape.
Even if an individual is experiencing these symptoms, he or she may still be reluctant to admit that a problem exists. However, family and friends may be able to detect the problem by looking for the signs of bulimia nervosa. Some of the most common signs of bulimia nervosa include:
- Avoidance of eating in front of others.
- Episodes of binging.
- Fasting or strict diets after binging.
- Going to the bathroom during or right after meals.
- Fluctuating weight.
- Sores or calluses on the hands or knuckles.
- Swelling of the face, cheeks, hands and/or feet.
- Excessive exercise.
- Negative body image and/or preoccupation with weight gain.
- Damaged gums and teeth.
Bulimia Nervosa Prognosis
If bulimia nervosa is left untreated, it can lead to a wide variety of complications. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of the most common bulimia nervosa side effects include:
- Severe tooth decay.
- Gum disease.
- Irregular heartbeat, heart failure or other heart problems.
- Personality disorders, anxiety or depression.
- Digestive disturbances.
- Dehydration, which can lead to other complications like kidney failure.
- In females, irregular periods.
- Abuse of drugs or alcohol.
- Problems with social functioning.
- Low self-esteem.
In some cases, people struggling with bulimia nervosa may even hurt themselves or become suicidal. For this reason, seeking effective bulimia nervosa treatment is essential.
Bulimia Nervosa Recovery Programs
Because bulimia nervosa can have so many severe implications for patients, prompt treatment is highly recommended. The sooner a patient receives treatment, the easier it will be for him or her to make a full recovery.
Bulimia nervosa recovery programs are designed to help individuals struggling with this disorder to identify the underlying cause of their problems and resume healthy eating patterns. These programs differ considerably with regard to their approach to treatment. In general, the most effective bulimia nervosa treatment programs are those that customize treatment based on the needs of the patient. For example, the program may begin with a thorough medical and psychological evaluation of the patient intended to identify the factors that led to the development of the disorder, as well as the complications the disorder has already caused. Based on this information, the facility can develop a treatment approach tailored to that specific patient.