Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder in which a person is consumed with weight and body image. People with bulimia often engage in episodes of binge-eating large amounts of food and then purging, or getting rid of the food, often through vomiting, use of laxatives or extreme exercise. Many people with bulimia nervosa may partake in a combination of all of these purging methods. Unlike anorexia nervosa, people with bulimia nervosa usually maintain what is considered a healthy or normal weight, however, they are often very unhappy with their body size and shape and want desperately to lose weight. Bulimic behavior occurs more commonly in women, and is often done secretly because it may be accompanied by feelings of disgust or shame. This binge-eating and purging cycle may occur on a weekly basis, or several times a day in extreme cases.
Causes of Bulimia Nervosa
The exact cause of bulimia is unknown, but is believed to be a combination of biological, psychological, social and cultural factors. Media and peer pressure can often influence an extreme desire to be thin, especially in young girls. Life changes or stressful events may lead to the onset of bulimia and mental conditions such as depression or anxiety may also be a factor in developing the condition. Purging and preventing weight gain may help people with bulimia to feel more in control of their lives and ease stress and anxiety. Other factors that may play a part in developing bulimia include genes and family upbringing. If an individual is raised in a family that places a great importance on a thin body image, they have a greater chance of developing an eating disorder such as bulimia nervosa. In addition, certain genes and hormones in the brain may contribute to an individual developing bulimia.
Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia is a serious disorder that causes both physical and emotional problems and can result in serious health consequences or even death. Many symptoms of this disorder are caused by the methods used to purge food and may include:
- Constant dieting
- Eating large amounts of food
- Exercising for hours
- Hoarding food
- Damaged teeth and gums
- Sores in the throat and mouth
- Acid reflux disorder
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Dry skin
- Menstrual cycle abnormalities
Since bulimia can cause a women to have an irregular menstrual cycle and miss her period, ovulation may not occur, causing difficulty with getting pregnant.
Treatment of Bulimia Nervosa
Treatment for bulimia nervosa often involves a team of health professionals including doctors, nutritionists, psychiatrists and therapists. Medical treatment may be administered if the body has become damaged by the condition. Nutritional counseling can help the patient to develop healthy eating patterns and psychological counseling can help to address mental health issues. Some antidepressants may also be effective in treating bulimia, especially in those patients who also suffer from depression or anxiety. Antidepressant medication may also help to reduce binge-eating and purging behavior, and reduce the chance of relapse.
Bulimia often requires long-term treatment to prevent relapses, and may be a life-long process. Untreated cases of bulimia nervosa can lead to severe tooth decay, anemia, heart, kidney and gastrointestinal problems, or even death.