Bulimia Nervosa

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quick GuideEating Disorders: Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating

Eating Disorders: Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating

What are causes and risk factors for bulimia?

While there is no known specific cause for bulimia, family history and environmental stressors are thought to contribute to the development of the illness. Generally, while people who have relatives with bulimia are at a higher risk of developing the disorder, this may be as much the result of inherited perfectionism and rigidity as it is an inheritance of the disorder itself. Some life stressors, like family economic problems, can increase the chance of developing bulimia as an adult.

Adolescents are at greatest risk for developing bulimia, as statistics show that about three-quarters of people who develop the illness do so before they reach 22 years of age, most often at 15 to 16 years of age. Adolescents who have any eating problem by 12 years of age are at higher risk for developing bulimia, but children with eating problems as babies are not necessarily at higher risk for getting the illness.

High body mass index, low self-esteem, and being part of a family that is suffering from financial difficulties are risk factors for developing purging behaviors. Involvement in activities that highly reward thinness, like gymnastics, running, wrestling, horse jockeying, or modeling, are other risk factors for developing bulimia.

What are symptoms and signs of bulimia?

Symptoms of bulimia include repeated episodes of bingeing and purging. Binges are defined as uncontrolled episodes of eating food amounts in a short period of time that are clearly more than most people would consume in a similar time period. People with bulimia have trouble controlling their eating during the binges. They also engage in some form of repeated undoing of the excessive food/calories they ingest that occurs during episodes of binge eating. Examples of purging behaviors include making oneself throw up, fasting, excessive exercise, or abuse of laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, or other medications. Bulimic individuals tend to have their self-esteem excessively linked to their appearance in terms of body shape and weight.

Physical signs and symptoms that can be associated with bulimia include sore throat, discolored, deteriorating teeth, and abdominal pain/cramping and bloating associated with repeated vomiting. Individuals with bulimia may develop swollen salivary glands that give the sufferer bigger cheeks. They may also develop constipation, dehydration, dry skin, and thinning hair.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/16/2016

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