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Health and Fitness News

Spotlight on Bulimia

Bulimia nervosa is a heartbreaking eating disorder that’s associated with serious, life-threatening health risks.

Like other mental disorders, bulimia nervosa is based on unrealistic or irrational thoughts or rituals. Most people with the eating disorder are normal weight or slightly overweight, but see themselves as overweight and therefore have an unhealthy relationship to food and a negative self-image. Those who suffer bulimia usually go through the binge and purge routine each week.

It starts with excessive overeating (binging). The individual loses control and eats anything and everything in sight. Sometime after, the purging takes place. This may involve vomiting or the use of laxatives, enemas, diuretics, excessive exercise, fasting, or certain medications.

While a troublesome condition, there is help available for those with bulimia. However, the longer the pattern continues, the more harm it can do. Here are a few ways bulimia is dangerous for your health and well-being.

Dehydration

One of the main health risks associated with bulimia is dehydration. Your body systems function on a delicate balance of fluids. Any time you throw up or use diuretics in a way they’re not intended, your body is at risk for losing too much fluid and becoming dehydrated. This can cause other complications, some which are listed below.

Heart Problems

When bulimia causes dehydration, you’re also at risk for serious heart problems. Low fluid levels can cause low blood volume and eventually hypovolemic shock. This is a life-threatening emergency caused by low blood pressure and lack of oxygen. Dehydration can also lead to other heart problems including heart palpitations, an irregular heart rhythm, or low blood pressure that may cause fainting.

Electrolyte Imbalance

One thing that can happen when you’re dehydrated is an electrolyte imbalance. Electrolytes are minerals such as potassium, calcium, and magnesium that are found in your body fluids. They have an electric charge to help to keep a balance of fluids in your cells and carry communication between cells. Dehydration can interfere with the electrical messages of electrolytes. The end result can be seizures, muscle weakness, involuntary muscle contractions, heart problems, and a loss of consciousness.

Damage to the Esophagus

Forcing yourself to vomit can harm your esophagus, the tube running from your throat to your stomach. Forceful vomiting can tear the esophagus, causing internal, life-threatening bleeding. Frequent, forceful vomiting may even cause the esophagus to burst open, another emergency situation.

Digestive Problems

Making yourself throw up can damage the valve that connects the esophagus to the stomach, causing stomach acid to enter the esophagus. Known as acid reflux, this painful condition causes indigestion and heartburn. Using diuretics, laxatives, and supplements in a way they aren’t intended can also lead to permanent damage to the digestive system. Two potential problems include constipation and diarrhea.

Harm to the Hair, Skin, and Nails

It’s likely that someone with bulimia doesn’t get enough nutrients. Nutritional deficiencies can harm your body, including your appearance. Hair may become dry, brittle, thin, and dull. Nails may be thin and break easily, and your skin may look pale and dry.

Mouth Problems

Frequent exposure to harsh stomach acids can harm your teeth and mouth. It’s common for bulimics to suffer tooth decay, sensitivity, or discoloration. Stomach acids can also cause gum disease, painful mouth sores, and swollen salivary glands that make your face look puffy.

Vocal Cord Irritation

Severe bulimia that includes frequent purging can harm the vocal cords. Chronic exposure to stomach acids can make someone’s voice constantly sound hoarse.

Cold All the Time

When frequent purging leads to malnutrition, your body may have a hard time regulating its core temperature. In the event this happens, your internal body temperature falls and you feel cold all the time.

Fear you or a loved one is loving with bulimia nervosa or another eating disorder? Don’t ignore the problem or try to resolve it on your own. Talk with your doctor to find out what treatment options are available.