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What is bulimia?

Bulimia nervosa, is an eating disorder known simply as bulimia. Bulimia is the most common of the eating disorders, but is not as physically dangerous as anorexia.

Like anorexia, people with bulimia have a fear of becoming fat but unlike those with anorexia their weight is usually within a healthy limit or they might even be overweight. This is because people with bulimia will binge by eating a lot of fattening food, such as cakes or boxes of chocolates at one time. However, they will then feel guilty and depressed, so will starve themselves, make themselves sick or use laxatives or diuretics to try to lose the weight. This then sets up a vicious cycle which is hard to break out of and which will control their lives.

Bulimia is more common in women over the age of 20.

What causes bulimia?

The cause of bulimia is unknown, a lot of people who suffer with bulimia also suffer from low self esteem. Bulimia can be triggered off by stresses in life, such as family problems, relationship break-ups or sexual abuse. People are four times more likely to develop bulimia if there is a history of bulimia in the family.

What are the symptoms of bulimia?

People who have bulimia might use excessive amounts of laxatives or will make themselves vomit. Other symptoms of bulimia may include:

  • Irregular periods or none at all.
  • Puffy face, caused by constant vomiting.
  • Swollen fingers.
  • Depression & mood swings.
  • Stomach ache or bowel damage due to constantly taking laxatives.
  • Use of the bathroom frequently after meals.
  • Overeating, in which large amounts of food are consumed in short periods of time.

People will bulimia are often ashamed of their behaviour and so will go to great lengths to disguise it.

How is bulimia diagnosed?

There are no specific tests available to diagnose bulimia, though your doctor may want to do a blood test to check for anaemia or other causes of weight loss. If you think you may have bulimia then early diagnosis is important to prevent any long term damage to the body.

How is bulimia treated?

The aim of treating bulimia is to get the person to eat three regular meals a day without vomiting or starving. People with bulimia will also be offered counselling, which will examine the cause of why they developed bulimia in the first place. Antidepressants may also be diagnosed to relieve any depression.

What is the long term outlook for people with bulimia?

If bulimia continues without treatment you can develop stomach, bowel, or kidney disorders from the excessive use of laxatives. Excess vomiting can cause tooth decay, bad breath, mouth ulcers, sore throats and stomach disorders.