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Eating Disorders

  • Complications of Bulimia

    Effects of Bulimic Behavior on the Body

    Many medical problems are directly associated with bulimic behavior, including:

    • Tooth erosion, cavities, and gum problems
    • Water retention, swelling, and abdominal bloating
    • Acute stomach distress
    • Fluid loss with low potassium levels (due to excessive vomiting or laxative use; can lead to extreme weakness, near paralysis, or lethal heart rhythms)
    • Irregular menstrual periods
    • Swallowing problems and esophagus damage

    Forced vomiting can cause:

    The esophagus connects the mouth with the stomach. The epiglottis folds over the trachea when a swallow occurs, to prevent the swallowed substance from being inhaled into the lungs. When a person is unable to swallow because of illness or coma, a tube may be inserted either through the mouth or nose, past the epiglottis, through the esophagus and into the stomach. Nutrients pass directly through the tube into the stomach.
    • Rupture of the esophagus
    • Weakened rectal walls (a rare but serious condition that requires surgery)
    Click the icon to see an image of the rectum.

    Self-Destructive Behavior

    A number of self-destructive behaviors occur with bulimia:

    • Smoking. Many teenage girls with eating disorders smoke because they believe it will help prevent weight gain.
    • Impulsive Behaviors. Women with bulimia may be at higher-than-average risk for dangerous impulsive behaviors, such as sexual promiscuity, self-cutting, and kleptomania.
    • Alcohol and Substance Abuse. Many patients with bulimia abuse alcohol, drugs, or both. Women with bulimia also frequently abuse over-the-counter medications, such as laxatives, appetite suppressants, diuretics, and drugs that induce vomiting (ipecac).