Medical Definition of Bulimia

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Bulimia: Also called bulimia nervosa. An eating disorder characterized by episodes of secretive excessive eating (binge-eating) followed by inappropriate methods of weight control, such as self-induced vomiting (purging), abuse of laxatives and diuretics, or excessive exercise. The insatiable appetite of bulimia is often interrupted by periods of anorexia.

Like anorexia, bulimia is generally thought to be a psychological eating disorder. It is another condition that goes beyond out-of-control dieting. The cycle of overeating and purging can quickly become an obsession similar to an addiction to drugs or other substances. Although bulimia has been widely considered to be psychological and sociocultural in origin, not everyone is susceptible to developing bulimia.

There is now a substantial literature showing that bulimia is strongly familial and that the pronounced familial nature of bulimia is due largely to the additive effects of a number of genes. One bulimia susceptibility gene is known to be linked to chromosome 10p (the short arm of chromosome 10). Another susceptibility gene for bulimia may be on chromosome 14.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/25/2017

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