Bulimia Nervosa is a distressing food intake disorder, which is distinguished by frequent binge eating and purging. The significant, negative, long term effects of Bulimia can have serious consequences on an individual’s physical and mental health if left untreated.
Binge eating and purging involve consuming huge amounts of food in short periods and experiencing a loss of control (binge eating) and then seeking to compensate by eliminating the food ingested by the body through self-induced vomiting, fasting, strenuous exercise, and laxative use, diuretics or diet pills, among others (purging). This binge-purge cycle can be harmful to the individual’s physical and emotional health and result in life-threatening illnesses. You can also refer to this as disordered eating.
According to research, in the United States, the estimated prevalence of Bulimia among women is higher (0.5%) than among men (0.1%). Bulimia Nervosa lifetime prevalence is 1.0%. Although this eating disorder is most frequent in adolescence and young adulthood, it has also been identified in younger people (as early as six years old) and older adults.
Many of the short-term effects of this eating disorder, like severe dehydration, fatigue, anemia, constipation, stomach pain, and acid reflux, among others, can be addressed and reversed provided proper medical treatment is taken and bulimia habits are stopped.
On the other hand, if left untreated, the consequences of bingeing and purging begin to cause more serious and irreversible harm to the body as bulimia advances, resulting in many significant health issues. The severity of the disorder determines the degree of these issues.
Long Term Effects Of Bulimia
1. Oral Health Problems
When a person with bulimia engages in the recurrent act of self-induced vomiting, the mouth is constantly exposed to the stomach acids present in the vomit. This can result in a variety of dental problems, including tooth sensitivity and tooth decay. As a result of the consequent erosion of tooth enamel (due to vomit’s high acid content), bulimia can also result in dental symptoms like cavities, discoloration, and tooth loss. Other oral symptoms include dry mouth, damaged soft palate, gum disease, and swollen salivary glands. Damaged salivary glands also result in facial swelling.
Read more all about tooth decay
2. Damage To Throat
Chronic sore throat is another one of the long term side effects of bulimia, caused by recurrent vomiting. This eating disorder can also cause esophageal problems in the long run. Purge vomiting may irritate, weaken and tear the esophagus, resulting in several issues; chronic acid reflux is one of them.
Constant exposure of the esophagus mucous membranes to stomach acid (involved in acid reflux) causes inflammation, eventually resulting in Barrett’s esophagus disease. At this point, there is also an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.
3. Bone Weakness And Damage
Bulimia Nervosa also affects one’s bone health. Repetition of binge/purge episodes can result in dehydration, damage to the endocrine glands, and interference with digestion and absorption of essential nutrients. The body starts to use up the small amount of calcium it receives to regulate and keep blood levels stable. Consequently, an individual would eventually develop deficiencies, one of them being calcium deficiency.
The bones not getting the nutrients they require leads to bone health problems; it leads to a decrease in the average bone density. Low bone density causes bones to become less compact and more susceptible to breaking – brittle bones. Due to this, long term effects of bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa like osteopenia and osteoporosis are caused.
Although following a better diet can help improve bone health, there is still a risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis for bulimia patients in the future.
4. Heart Issues
When the body cannot obtain sufficient calories from the food consumed (due to repeated vomiting), it begins to consume muscle. If this continues for a long period, it results in a weakened heart, coronary heart disease, and possibly even death.
Another reason for the cardiovascular complications caused by this serious eating disorder is the dehydration resulting from regular purging, which causes weak muscles and chronic fatigue. This can result in arrhythmia (abnormal heartbeat/irregular heart rhythms) and weakening heart muscle, increasing the risk of heart failure. It can also lead to electrolyte imbalances, affecting cardiovascular function.
Electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, and sodium are commonly depleted due to prolonged vomiting. The repeated acts of purging might also cause blood vessels in the eyes to break.
5. Gastrointestinal Issues
The acid brought up due to purging can cause peptic ulcers, constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, and gastric rupture or perforation.
People with bulimia tend to binge on foods usually high in fats, sugars, or often both and low in protein. Even though they purge the food, part of it stays in the body, causing hyperinsulinemia and, in rare cases, insulin resistance and diabetes mellitus type 2 (DM-2).
7. Reproductive Issues
People with eating disorders like bulimia may develop hormonal imbalances as a result of dietary deficiencies. Fatigue or inadequate nutrition can decrease the individual’s sex drive by messing with their sex hormones. Bulimia can disrupt the menstrual cycle (oligomenorrhea). As a result, other long term effects of bulimia might affect fertility and cause reproductive difficulties. Infrequent menstrual periods are also a common issue in this situation.
To sustain her growing baby, a pregnant woman’s body requires a substantial amount of nourishment. This eating disorder can cause complications in pregnancy and can adversely affect a woman’s ability to provide nutrients to her child.
Health complications combined with dietary deficiencies can increase a woman’s risk of miscarriage, premature birth, breech birth, breastfeeding problems, increased risk of cesarean delivery, and congenital disabilities. Abusing laxatives and diuretics during pregnancy is harmful to the child.
8. Mental Health Issues
Bulimia is also a mental health disorder. Common mental health issues that bulimics might face include depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. As a result of poor nutrition, moodiness and irritability might occur. People with bulimia tend to try to restrict calories, constantly monitor their weight and engage in excessive exercise. They might also engage in substance abuse to cope with weight gain.
Other long term effects of bulimia include kidney damage, increased chance of kidney stones and renal or kidney failure, and high cholesterol.
To counteract the consequences of poor nutrition and vomiting, effective treatment for bulimia usually consists of a combination of psychotherapy, antidepressants, and dietary recommendations. Consulting a medical professional is important so that they can assist you in monitoring for long-term health implications.
Therapy and counseling are also essential for addressing co-occurring disorders such as depression or anxiety and assisting a person in identifying and challenging negative thinking patterns and contextual factors that lead to eating disorder behaviors.
Many people overcome their bulimia and go on to live happy, healthy lives.
1. What are other common symptoms of bulimia aside from throwing up?
It’s generally difficult (if not impossible) to identify if a loved one has bulimia simply by looking at them. Bulimia may affect people who are underweight, overweight, and even of ordinary weight.
The following are some of the most prevalent bulimia symptoms:
- Dehydration to an extreme extent
- Knuckles or backs of hands having calluses or scrapes
- Discolored teeth
- Enlargement of the cheekbones or jaws
- Stomach aches and pains, as well as other gastrointestinal problems (such as constipation and acid reflux)
- Syncope (dizziness and fainting)
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
2. What are other possible health complications?
Bulimia, like other eating disorders, alongside emotional effects, can impact every organ in the body. Bingeing and purging on a regular basis can produce gastrointestinal problems as well as chemical imbalances that can impair the heart and other physical processes.
The following are some of the most common bulimia complications:
- Decay of the teeth
- Esophagus being injured or inflamed (especially if you have a sore throat)
- Anemia (other issues related to low blood might show up as well)
- Pancreatitis, which is a condition in where the pancreas is inflamed (pancreatitis)
- Failure of the heart
- Erratic heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- Metabolism slows
- Renal disease
- High cholesterol
- Higher calcium deficiency
- Fertility problems
- High blood sugar levels
- Chronic constipation
- Several negative changes in the menstrual cycle
While at times contributed by guest authors, our content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. We pride ourselves on our high-quality content and strive towards offering expertise while being authoritative. Our reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students.
Do note that any information found on the site does not constitute legal or medical advice. Should you face health issues, please visit your doctor to get yourself diagnosed. Icy Health offers expert opinions and advice for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice.