7 Things Bulimia Does to Your Body

  • Bulimia Concept
    The Danger of Bulimia
    Bulimia puts the body under constant stress. This comes from cycling between eating too much (bingeing) and then getting rid of the food taken in (purging). Bulimia causes the body's fluids, nutrients and calories to be out of balance. This leads to health conditions that can be very dangerous. Your body can also develop uncomfortable and unpleasant effects from bulimia. Here's how this eating disorder affects the body in ways that go beyond the scale.

  • Heart Health - iStockMovember2011
    Heart Failure and Other Heart Problems
    One of the most serious ways bulimia affects the body is by causing heart problems. When you purge, your body loses important minerals called electrolytes. Potassium and sodium chloride are examples. This can cause your heart to beat irregularly. It may cause heart failure. That's when the heart muscle gets weak and does not pump blood like it should. Blood pressure levels may drop. Serious heart problems from bulimia can be fatal.

  • Close up of dentists angled mirror in womans mouth
    Dental Health Issues
    Not everyone with bulimia purges by vomiting. But, in those who do, their teeth pay the price. The stomach acids that get into the mouth during vomiting wear away the tooth enamel. This can cause tooth decay and cavities. It can also cause gum disease. Stomach acids from frequent vomiting may stain the teeth. People who purge by vomiting also might experience pain or sensitivity when drinking or eating something very hot or very cold.

  • woman with stomach pain
    Digestive Discomfort
    Bulimia affects the digestive tract from beginning to end. The lining of the esophagus may tear from frequent vomiting. Tissues along the throat may swell. Stomach ulcers are common. Stomach discomfort, cramping and bloating can occur if it takes too long to digest all of the food taken in during a binge. It's also possible for the stomach to rupture from eating more food than it can hold. (This is rare, however.) People with bulimia may not have regular bowel movements and they can develop constipation and hemorrhoids.

  • Drinking water
    Whether you purge by vomiting, taking laxatives, or exercising excessively, your body is losing fluids. The body needs water and electrolytes to keep all of its processes going. Kidneys may suffer serious damage from dehydration caused by bulimia. That can lead to kidney failure. Severe dehydration can cause seizures or brain damage. Severe, untreated dehydration can be fatal.

  • Red Sore eye
    Eye and Skin Damage
    Not all damage from bulimia is internal. Some is very visible. Purging by vomiting can cause: bloodshot eyes from burst blood vessels; swollen and tender cheeks and jaw; sore knuckles from trying to force vomiting; and dry, dull and unhealthy skin from lack of nutrients and fluids.

  • unhappy couple in bed
    Emotional Struggles
    Bulimia can go hand-in-hand with emotional and psychological problems. Many people with bulimia experience anxiety or depression. Some people with bulimia may be so depressed they consider suicide. Some people abuse drugs or alcohol to cope with what they're feeling. That can lead to addiction. When a person is obsessed with how their body looks, they may stay away from friends and family, leading to isolation.

  • Nurse and premature baby
    Menstruation and Pregnancy Problems
    Bulimia may cause irregular periods, or, no periods at all. Bulimia can cause problems with pregnancy and with getting pregnant. Pregnant women who are bulimic may develop high blood pressure or diabetes, and they have a greater chance of having a miscarriage. They're more likely to need a cesarean delivery. Bulimia also increases the risk of depression after childbirth. Babies born to mothers with bulimia may be born before their due dates, have birth defects, or weigh less than normal at birth.

  • woman talking to therapist
    Reversing Its Effects
    With intervention and good medical care, you can reverse some effects of bulimia. The sooner treatment starts, the more effective it is likely to be. Different types of specialists may be involved in caring for an individual with bulimia, such as a psychologist and an internist.

7 Things Bulimia Does to Your Body

About The Author

  1. Bulimia Nervosa. National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa
  2. Bulimia. Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000341.htm
  3. Bulimia Nervosa. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bulimia/symptoms-causes/dxc-20179827
  4. Bulimia Nervosa Fact Sheet. Office on Women's Health. http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/bulimia-nervosa.html#e
  5. Dehydration. Medline Plus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000982.htm
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 9
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.