Debra Wood, RN
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder. People who have bulimia are overly concerned with weight and body image. They eat very large amounts of food (called binging) and use inappropriate means to rid their bodies of the food (called purging). Purging may be done through vomiting, laxatives, or water pills. Excessive exercise or fasting may replace or be used along with purging. This cycle of binging and purging is used to prevent weight gain.
The exact cause of bulimia is unknown. Factors that may contribute to this condition include:
Factors that increase your chance of developing bulimia include:
Behavioral symptoms include:
Physical symptoms include:
Bulimia may lead to other problems, including:
Symptoms of these complications include:
People with bulimia have a high incidence of psychiatric conditions, including:
The doctor will ask about:
The doctor will also do a physical exam. Your teeth will be checked for signs of erosion.
Tests may include:
A mental health professional may also perform a psychiatric exam and/or psychological tests.
The goals of treatment are:
You may be referred to a registered dietitian. A dietitian can teach you how to follow a healthy diet and create reasonable weight and calorie goals.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
can be very effective, especially when combined with medicine.
Other therapies may be less effective, but can help you to:
Antidepressant drugs, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have proven effective in helping to reduce binging and purging.
Healthy attitudes about food and your body help prevent bulimia nervosa. Suggestions include:
Bulimia Nervosa Resource Guide for Family and Friends
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
National Eating Disorders Association
Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association
Canadian Mental Health Association
Bulimia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/. Updated July 17, 2012. Accessed August 28, 2012.
Bulimia nervosa fact sheet. Women's Health.gov website. Available at:
http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.cfm. Updated June 15, 2009. Accessed August 28, 2012.
Eating disorders. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at:
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders/index.shtml. Accessed August 28, 2012.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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