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The physical effects of bulimia

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The physical effects of bulimia
Download this factsheet.

The cycle of binge-eating followed by purging, or vomiting, that characterises bulimia (bulimia nervosa) has a range of harmful and effects on the body.

These effects commonly include:

  • Frequent and major weight changes.
  • Stretch marks.
  • Sore throat, the erosion of tooth enamel and bad breath caused by excessive vomiting.
  • Swollen salivary glands making the face round and puffy.
  • Poor skin condition and possible hair loss.
  • Irregular menstrual periods or loss or periods.
  • Lethargy and tiredness.
  • Abdominal pain and bloating.
  • Chronic constipation and risk of bowel problems due to laxative abuse.

There is a general tendency among people with bulimia to gain weight year-on-year. People use vomiting for weight loss followed by binge eating leading to significant weight gain. Not all of this weight is lost in the next cycle of vomiting.

Therefore a drive to lose weight turns into a cycle which actually causes weight increase.

The long term dangers of bulimia

Many people with bulimia develop chronic dehydration, caused by vomiting and the use of laxatives. This can lead to low potassium levels, triggering a wide range of symptoms ranging from lethargy and muddled thinking to potentially life-threatening heart and kidney problems. Another serious complication of bulimia is the rupture of the stomach.

Bulimia has a lower mortality rate than anorexia. However, in extreme cases, death can occur due to heart failure. People with bulimia have also died following unintentional overdoses.