Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging. Unlike anorexia nervosa, patients suffering from bulimia become locked into an unhealthy eating pattern of binging on high calorie foods followed by purging, either with self induced vomiting or with the aid of laxatives. In general, bulimia is considered to be less serious than anorexia, but the health risks of bulimia can be just as far reaching, so what are the short and long term bulimia health risks?
The health risks associated with bulimia are linked to the frequent purging of food via vomiting, long term use of laxatives and emetic drugs, plus health issues caused by frequent binge eating. There are also many mental health problems associated with bulimia and a high proportion of people with an eating disorder are also suffering related illnesses such as depression or obsessive compulsive disorder.
Effects of Vomiting
One of the main characteristics of bulimia is the frequent vomiting to purge calories. Unfortunately, regular self induced vomiting can cause all kinds of short and long term bulimia health risks and in rare cases, can cause death. The most noticeable effect of frequent vomiting can be seen on the teeth. Regular vomiting causes stomach acid to pass through the mouth, which over time begins to erode tooth enamel, causing teeth to become discolored and start to decay and rot.
Frequent vomiting can also lead to metabolic alkalosis, which causes sleep apnoea, irregular heartbeat, convulsions, and in severe cases, coma. Another serious side effect of regular vomiting is an increased risk of lung aspiration, which can lead to pneumonia and even death.
Effects of Laxatives
Many people suffering from bulimia use laxatives to purge their system. Laxatives are very dangerous when used regularly as they can cause a number of serious health problems including an electrolyte imbalance. Using laxatives to purge calories will lead to a deficiency of essential minerals, including potassium, calcium, and sodium. An electrolyte imbalance can cause arrhythmia of the heart, a very serious heart condition and a major cause of death in patients suffering from bulimia.
Aside from the short and long term health risks of bulimia caused by laxative abuse and induced vomiting, binge eating can cause many health problems. Frequent overeating can affect the digestive system and lead to ruptures in the stomach and esophagus, both of which are a potentially fatal condition. Binge eating and purging can also lead to the development of stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal reflux disease.
In women, one of the long term effects of an eating disorder such as bulimia is a reduction in fertility. If a woman suffering from bulimia becomes pregnant, the continual purging of food will lead to a lack of nutrients for her unborn baby, which will significantly increase the risk of miscarriage or stillbirth. Many women who have had problems with bulimia in the past can find it hard to get pregnant, even when their eating disorder is no longer an issue, and if they do fall pregnant, they are more likely to have a high risk pregnancy as a result of their history of bulimia.