What Is Purging Disorder?

Purging Disorder vs. Bulimia and Anorexia

Purging eating disorders are marked by purging without the binge eating of bulimia.
Purging eating disorders are marked by purging without the binge eating of bulimia.

If you or someone you know often throws up after eating a normal serving of food, it might be purging disorder. It's different than bulimia or anorexia. And experts have just begun to classify it as a unique eating disorder.

People with purging disorder make themselves throw up often. They might also take medicine to force themselves to poop, pee, or vomit.

Unlike people with bulimia, people with purging disorder don’t binge eat. That means they don’t do things like eat a whole package of cookies before throwing up. And unlike people with anorexia, they aren’t underweight.

Experts say this disorder is “not quite” anorexia and “not quite” bulimia. It’s somewhere in between.

Because it’s grouped with other eating disorders, you may hear your doctor call it an “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder” or OSFED.

Here’s info you need to understand what purging disorder is, its effects on the body, the health risks it poses, and what you or someone you know can do about it.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

It might be hard to tell if a person has purging disorder. If you are worried about yourself or someone you know, here are some of the warning signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Comments or behaviors that show a lot of worry about food, dieting, or weight loss
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom
  • Signs or smells of vomiting
  • Cuts or calluses on hands from forced vomiting
  • Dental problems or sensitive teeth
  • Frequent use of mouthwash, mints, or gum
  • Wrappers from laxatives or diuretics

What Causes Purging Disorder?

It’s not clear what causes purging disorder. Many factors may influence a person’s risk. Girls or women have purging disorder more often than boys or men. Estimates show that about 2.5% to 5% of adolescent girls may have this eating disorder.

People with the following may be more likely to develop purging disorder:

  • Higher weight or body mass index (BMI)
  • Fear of gaining weight
  • A focus on being thin
  • Unhappiness or frustration with their body
  • A history of dieting to lose weight
  • Feelings of losing control over their eating even if they don't eat too much
  • Less care from their mother while growing up

Some studies show that people with purging disorder may react differently to food. For instance, their stomachs may make more of certain hormones after eating. Those hormones might cause them to feel too full even when they haven’t eaten much.

So far, researchers haven’t found any genetic risks for the disorder. More research is needed to better understand the risks and causes.

Is It Dangerous to Purge?

Eating disorders are serious mental health problems. Like other eating disorders, purging disorder often comes with feelings of distress, anxiety, or depression. It can make it hard to enjoy friends, family, school, or work. Also, people with eating disorders have a higher risk of committing suicide.

Throwing up often is also hard on the body. A person with purging disorder may have these and other health problems:

How Can I or Someone Else With Purging Disorder Get Help?

It’s not clear how often you have to purge for it to be a disorder. If you are worried about an eating disorder you or someone close to you may have, there are hotlines you can call. But it’s also important to see a doctor to get help and to avoid more serious health problems.

In a study of eating disorder treatment, nearly half of people with purging disorder stopped throwing up or got better after treatment. But, even with treatment, many people continue to struggle.

There are no specific plans for treating purging disorder. Doctors use the same treatments they use for other eating disorders. Treatment will likely include talk therapy, nutrition counseling, and treatment for other health or dental issues. People with purging disorder usually don’t need to stay in a hospital.

(c)2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Current Opinion in Psychiatry: “Purging disorder: recent advances and challenges.”

Mirror Mirror: “Purging Disorder.”

Disorders.org: “Purging Disorder.”

Mayo Clinic: “Eating disorder treatment: Know your options.”

Eating Disorders Victoria: “Other eating disorders.”

American Psychiatric Association: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.