Find information on thousands of medical conditions and prescription drugs.

Bulimia nervosa

Bulimia nervosa, more commonly known as bulimia, is an eating disorder. It is a psychological condition in which the subject engages in recurrent binge eating followed by intentionally doing one or more of the following in order to compensate for the intake of the food and prevent weight gain: more...

Bacterial endocarditis
Bacterial food poisoning
Bacterial meningitis
Bacterial pneumonia
Bangstad syndrome
Bardet-Biedl syndrome
Bardet-Biedl syndrome
Bardet-Biedl syndrome
Bardet-Biedl syndrome
Barrett syndrome
Barth syndrome
Basal cell carcinoma
Batten disease
Becker's muscular dystrophy
Becker's nevus
Behcet syndrome
Behr syndrome
Bell's palsy
Benign congenital hypotonia
Benign essential tremor...
Benign fasciculation...
Benign paroxysmal...
Berdon syndrome
Berger disease
Bicuspid aortic valve
Biliary atresia
Binswanger's disease
Biotinidase deficiency
Bipolar disorder
Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome
Bloom syndrome
Blue diaper syndrome
Blue rubber bleb nevus
Body dysmorphic disorder
Bourneville's disease
Bowen's disease
Brachydactyly type a1
Bright's disease
Brittle bone disease
Bronchiolotis obliterans...
Bronchopulmonary dysplasia
Brown-Sequard syndrome
Brugada syndrome
Bubonic plague
Budd-Chiari syndrome
Buerger's disease
Bulimia nervosa
Bullous pemphigoid
Burkitt's lymphoma
Cavernous angioma
  • vomiting,
  • inappropriate use of laxatives, enemas, diuretics or other medication,
  • excessive exercising,

The five DSM-IV critera

The following five criteria must all be met for a patient to be diagnosed with bulimia:

  • 1) The patient feels incapable of controlling the urge to binge, even during the binge itself; and he or she consumes a larger amount of food than a person would normally consume at one sitting
  • 2) The patient purges him or herself of the recent intake, resorting to vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, exercising, etc.
  • 3) The patient engages in such behavior occurs at least twice per week for three months.
  • 4) The patient is focused upon body image and the desperate desire to appear thin.
  • 5) The patient does not meet the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa. (Some anorectics may demonstrate bulimic behaviours in their illness: binge-eating and purging themselves of food on a regular or infrequent basis at certain times during the course of their disease. Alternatively, some individuals might switch from having anorexia to having bulimia. The mortality rate for anorectics who practice bulimic behaviors is twice that of anorectics who do not. )
  • 6) The patient is of normal weight or overweight.

Please note that these diagnosis criteria are only a guide, and many doctors will diagnose bulimia nervosa if only one is not present.


Bulimia is often less about food, and more to do with deep psychological issues and profound feelings of lack of control. Binge/purge episodes can be severe, sometimes involving rapid and out of control feeding that can stop when the sufferers "are interrupted by another person . . . or their stomach hurts from over-extension . . . This cycle may be repeated several times a week or, in serious cases, several times a day." Sufferers can often "use the destructive eating pattern to gain control over their lives".

Patterns of bulimic cycles

The frequency of bulimic cycles will vary from person to person. Some will suffer from an episode every few months while others who are more severely ill may binge and purge several times a day. Some people may vomit automatically after they have eaten any food. Others will eat socially but may be bulimic in private. Some people do not regard their illness as a problem, while others despise and fear the vicious and uncontrollable cycle they are in.

Consequences of bulimia nervosa

  • Electrolyte imbalance, heart arrhythmia, heart failure
  • Teeth erosion and cavities
  • Sialadenosis (salivary gland swelling)
  • Potential for gastric rupture during periods of bingeing
  • Acid Reflux
  • Irritation, inflammation, and possible rupture of the esophagus
  • Laxative dependence
  • Peptic ulcers and pancreatitis
  • Emetic toxicity due to ipecac abuse
  • Potentially death


[List your site here Free!]

Bulimia nervosa
From Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 4/6/01 by Mai Tran


Bulimia nervosa is a serious and sometimes life-threatening eating disorder affecting mainly young women. People with bulimia, known as bulimics, consume large amounts of food (binge) and then try to rid themselves of the food and calories (purge) through fasting, excessive exercise, vomiting, or use of laxatives. Bulimics often feel that the behavior serves to reduce stress and relieve anxiety. Because bulimia results from an excessive concern with weight control and self-image, and is often accompanied by depression, it is also considered a psychiatric illness.


Bulimia nervosa is a serious health problem for more than two million adolescent girls and young women in the United States. The bingeing and purging activity associated with this disorder can cause severe damage, even death, although the risk of death is not as high as for anorexia nervosa , an eating disorder that leads to excessive weight loss.

Binge eating may in rare instances cause the stomach to rupture. In the case of purging, heart failure can result due to loss of vital minerals such as potassium. Vomiting causes other serious problems, including acid-related scarring of the fingers (if used to induce vomiting) and damage to tooth enamel. In addition, the tube that brings food from the mouth to the stomach (the esophagus) often becomes inflamed and salivary glands can become swollen. Irregular menstrual periods can also result, and interest in sex may diminish.

Most bulimics find it difficult to stop their behavior without professional help. Many typically recognize that the behavior is not normal, but feel out of control. Some bulimics struggle with other compulsive, risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse. Many also suffer from other psychiatric illnesses, including clinical depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

Most bulimics are females in their teens or early 20s. Males account for only 5-10% of all cases. People of all races develop the disorder, but most of those diagnosed are white.

Bulimic behavior is often carried out in secrecy, accompanied by feelings of guilt or shame. Outwardly, many people with bulimia appear healthy and successful, while inside they have feelings of helplessness and low self-esteem.

Causes & symptoms


The cause of bulimia is unknown. Researchers believe that it may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Bulimia tends to run in families. Research shows that certain brain chemicals, known as neurotransmitters, may function abnormally in acutely ill bulimia patients. Scientists also believe there may be a link between bulimia and other psychiatric problems, such as depression and OCD. Environmental influences include participation in work or sports that emphasize thinness, such as modeling, dancing, or gymnastics. Family pressures also may play a role. One study found that mothers who are extremely concerned about their daughters' physical attractiveness and weight may help to cause bulimia. In addition, girls with eating disorders tend to have fathers and brothers who criticize their weight.


According to the American Anorexia/Bulimia Association, Inc., warning signs of bulimia include:

  • eating large amounts of food uncontrollably (bingeing)
  • vomiting, abusing laxatives or diuretics, or engaging in fasting, dieting, or vigorous exercise (purging)
  • preoccupation with body weight
  • using the bathroom frequently after meals
  • depression or mood swings
  • irregular menstrual periods
  • onset of dental problems, swollen cheeks or glands, heartburn or bloating


Bulimia is treated most successfully when diagnosed early. But because the bulimic may deny there is a problem, getting medical help is often delayed. A complete physical examination in order to rule out other illnesses is the first step toward diagnosis.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a diagnosis of bulimia requires that a person have all of the following symptoms: >

  • recurrent episodes of binge eating (minimum average of two binge-eating episodes a week for at least three months)
  • a feeling of lack of control over eating during the binges
  • regular use of one or more of the following to prevent weight gain: self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics, strict dieting or fasting, or vigorous exercise
  • persistent over-concern with body shape and weight


Alternative therapies may be used as complementary to conventional treatment program for bulimic patients. They include diet, nutritional therapy, herbal therapy, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, biofeedback training, hypnotherapy, massage therapy and light therapy .


The following dietary changes may be helpful for bulimic patients:

  • Eat small but nutritious meals at regularly scheduled hours.
  • Avoid sweet, baked goods or any other foods that may cause craving.
  • Avoid allergenic foods.
  • Limit intake of alcohol, caffeine, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and salty foods.

Nutritional therapy

The following supplements may help improve bulimic symptoms and prevent deficiency of essential vitamins and minerals:

  • Multivitamin and mineral supplement to prevent deficiency of essential nutrients.
  • Vitamin B complex with C.
  • Zinc supplement. Bulimic patients may have zinc deficiency, and zinc is an important mineral needed by the body for normal hormonal activity and enzymatic function.


A homeopathic physician may prescribe patient-specific remedies for the treatment of bulimia.

Light therapy

Light therapy. Exposure to artificial light, available through full spectrum light bulbs or specially designed "light boxes," may be useful in reducing bulimic episodes, especially during the dark winter months.


Hypnotherapy may help resolve unconscious issues that contribute to bulimic behavior.


Yoga, qigong, t'ai chi or dance not only make patients physically healthier but also make them feel better about themselves.

Other treatments.

Other potentially beneficial treatments for bulimia include Chinese herbal therapy, hydrotherapy or biofeedback training.

Allopathic treatment

Early treatment of bulimia with a combination of drug and behavioral therapies is necessary to prevent serious health consequences. A comprehensive treatment plan is called for in order to address the complex interaction of physical and psychological problems of bulimia.

Behavioral approaches include individual psychotherapy, group therapy, and family therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy , which teaches patients how to change abnormal thoughts and behavior, is also used. Nutrition counseling and self-help groups are often helpful.

Antidepressants commonly used to treat bulimia include desipramine (Norpramin), imipramine (Tofranil), and fluoxetine (Prozac). These medications also may treat any co-existing depression.

In addition to professional treatment, family support plays an important role in helping the bulimic person. Encouragement and caring can provide the support needed to convince the sick person to get help, stay with treatment, or try again after a failure. Family members can help locate resources, such as eating disorder clinics in local hospitals or treatment programs in colleges designed for students.

Expected results

Bulimia may become chronic and lead to serious health problems, including seizures, irregular heartbeat, and thin bones. In rare cases, it can be fatal.

Timely therapy and medication can effectively manage the disorder and help the bulimic look forward to a normal, productive, and fulfilling life.


There is no known method to prevent bulimia.

Key Terms

To consume large amounts of food uncontrollably within a short time period.
A drug that promotes the formation and excretion of urine.
Certain brain chemicals that may function abnormally in acutely ill bulimic patients.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
A disorder that may accompany bulimia, characterized by the tendency to perform repetitive acts or rituals in order to relieve anxiety.

To rid the body of food and calories, commonly by vomiting or using laxatives.

Further Reading

For Your Information


  • The Burton Goldberg Group. Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Fife, WA: Future Medicine Publishing, 1995.
  • Cassell, Dana K. The Encyclopedia of Obesity and Eating Disorders. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc., 1994.
  • Jablow, Martha M. A Parent's Guide to Eating Disorders and Obesity. New York, NY: Dell Publishing, 1992.
  • Kubersky, Rachel. Everything You Need to Know about Eating Disorders. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 1992.
  • The Medical Advisor: The Complete Guide to Alternative & Conventional Treatments. Richmond, VA: TimeLife Education, 1997.


  • Berg, Frances M. "Eating Disorders Affect Both the Mind and Body." Healthy Weight Journal. 9/2 (1995): 27-31.
  • Cismoski, Janet, et al. "Teen Nutrition." Whose Kids?...Our Kids! 6 (1995).
  • Levine, Michael P. "10 Things Men Can Do and Be to Help Prevent Eating Disorders." Healthy Weight Journal. 9/1 (1995): 15.


  • American Anorexia/Bulimia Association, Inc. 293 Central Park West, Suite IR, New York, NY 10024. (212) 501-8351.
  • Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc. PO Box 5102, Eugene, OR 97405. (541) 344-1144.
  • Center for the Study of Anorexia and Bulimia, 1 W. 91st St., New York, NY 10024. (212) 595-3449.
  • Eating Disorder Awareness & Prevention, Inc. 603 Stewart St., Suite 803, Seattle, WA 98101. (206) 382-3587.
  • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Box 7, Highland Park, IL 60035. (708) 831-3438.
  • National Eating Disorders Organization. 6655 South Yale Ave, Tulsa, OK 74136. (918) 481-4044.

Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine. Gale Group, 2001.

Return to Bulimia nervosa
Home Contact Resources Exchange Links ebay