The main symptoms of bulimia nervosa, also referred to as just bulimia, are binge eating and 'purging' behaviours.
Binge eating involves consuming a huge amount of food in one session. The person feels unable to control their eating during a binge.
Purging involves trying to get rid of the food after eating. The most common purging methods are deliberate vomiting and using laxatives. Some people may also use enemas or diuretics.
Some people with bulimia nervosa use other ways to compensate for eating binges, including dieting or fasting, excessive exercise or taking diet pills.
Binge-eating disorder (BED) is similar to bulimia nervosa but does not include purging or compensating behaviours. People with bulimia are often very critical of their bodies and may fear putting on weight.
But unlike those with anorexia nervosa, they are not usually underweight. People with bulimia nervosa often fluctuate dramatically in weight.
They often feel guilty or ashamed after bingeing or purging and many people with bulimia nervosa keep their symptoms hidden. They may avoid eating with others or disappear to the bathroom soon after eating.
Some people with bulimia nervosa also have other mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression. Some even have suicidal thoughts or make suicide attempts. Bulimia nervosa can cause serious damage to physical health, especially if purging is involved.
Some of the physical symptoms of bulimia nervosa may include:
- gastrointestinal problems.
- severely inflamed sore throat
- chronic dehydration
- dry skin
- swollen face or neck due to salivary glands
- worn tooth enamel or tooth decay
- intestinal problems due to laxative abuse
- heartburn or stomach ulcers
- hair loss or hair changes
- intolerance to cold.
- calluses on knuckles (from trying to cause vomiting)
- bad breath
- heart failure.
If these symptoms sound familiar, seeing a doctor is the first step on the journey towards recovery.
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Last reviewed: July 2017