Bulimia nervosa (BN) is a disorder characterised by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviour to prevent weight gain. The binge usually consists of eating inappropriately large amounts of food in a distinct period of time (usually about two hours). Most people consider bulimia to involve vomiting, however, other behaviours such as laxatives, diuretics, compulsive exercise and extended periods of fasting are made use of.

As with anorexia nervosa (AN), bulimia is about ten times more common in females than males. It affects 0.3%-7.3% of females in Westernised countries, with prevalence growing relatively rapidly in developing countries.

BN is often more difficult than AN to identify due to the fact that body weight is generally normal because of binge and purge practices with high energy intake. Although this is common, patients may be slightly under or over-weight.

Sufferers will often have underlying psychological issues with low self-esteem. They put a large amount of importance on weight and often find much grief in the fact that they do not become severely underweight.

It is common for bulimia to be found in conjunction with mood, anxiety and personality disorders. There is often a sense of lack of control over a binge eating episode which brings about a desperate need to purge the excessive energy intake. 80-90% of people with bulimia will use vomiting as a compensatory method. Some can bring themselves to vomit at will, while others use objects such as toothbrushes or a finger to stimulate their gag-reflex.

Although there may be dental erosion and marking on hands in patients that vomit, people with BN often look normal. However, there are serious physical dangers that come with the disorder. Some dangers and medical complications include:

  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration, alkalosis and hypokalemia as a result of vomiting
  • Oesophageal tears or ruptures
  • Gastric dilation or rupture
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Pills used also have severe side effects:
    • Diuretics and laxatives: hypokalemia, dehydration, electrolyte and acid-base imbalance and cardiac arrhythmias
    • Pills used to induce vomiting can cause myocardial damage and death

If you know of someone with bulimia, advise them to seek appropriate treatment. It is important to do so in a considerate, non-attacking way. Patients with BN are more likely to accept treatment for their disorder as they often feel completely out of control and require relief from the guilt and stress. The treatment of bulimia requires a team made up of a therapist, dietician and doctor.

Article supplied by @FuturelifeZa