What is bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa, also called bulimia, is a psychological eating disorder that is characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by inappropriate methods of weight control (purging). Inappropriate methods of weight control include vomiting, fasting, enemas, excessive use of laxatives and diuretics, and compulsive exercising. A binge is an episode where an individual eats a much larger amount of food than most people would in a similar situation.

Bulimia tends to develop late in childhood or in early adulthood. It affects females more often than males. People with bulimia often perform the behaviors in secret, feeling disgusted and ashamed when they binge, yet relieved once they purge. People with bulimia usually weigh within the normal range for their age and height. However, they may fear gaining weight, have desire to lose weight, and may feel intensely dissatisfied with their bodies.

What causes bulimia nervosa?

The exact cause of bulimia is not known, but research suggests that a combination of certain personality traits, emotions and thinking patterns, as well as biological and environmental factors might be responsible. Researchers also believe that bulimia may begin with a dissatisfaction of the person's body and extreme concern with body size and shape. Usually individuals suffering from bulimia have low self-esteem and fear becoming overweight. The fact that bulimia tends to run in families also suggests that a susceptibility to the disorder might be inherited.

What are the symptoms of bulimia nervosa?

The symptoms of bulimia nervosa include:

  • Eating uncontrollably followed by purging
  • Vomiting or abusing laxatives or diuretics in an attempt to lose weight
  • Using the bathroom frequently after meals
  • Excessive exercising
  • Preoccupation with body weight
  • Dental problems
  • Sore throat
  • Depression or mood swings
  • Feeling out of control
  • Swollen glands in neck and face
  • Heartburn, indigestion, bloating
  • Irregular periods
  • Weakness, exhaustion, bloodshot eyes

What complications are associated with bulimia?

  • Erosion of tooth enamel because of repeated exposure to acidic gastric contents
  • Dental cavities
  • Tooth sensitivity to hot or cold food
  • Swelling and soreness in the salivary glands (from repeated vomiting)
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Ruptures of the stomach and esophagus
  • Disruption in the normal bowel release function
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Dehydration
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart attack (in severe cases)
  • Higher risk for suicidal behavior

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