The effects of bulimia on health are myriad, especially in patients who have had this eating disorder for an extended period of time, as it is very hard on the body. Health problems caused by bulimia can include damages to the esophagus and digestive tract, organ failure, dental issues, and neurological complications, among others. People with bulimia need to be treated as quickly as possible to prevent permanent health problems, and follow-up treatment and observation throughout life is usually recommended to keep patients healthy.
Bulimic patients go through a binge and purge cycle, eating large volumes of food and following with vomiting and laxative use to purge it. Many also fast periodically. All of these activities strain the body, and the effects of bulimia on health are sometimes irreversible.
Frequent vomiting can lead to dental issues like erosion of the dental enamel, gum disease, and lesions in the mouth. These can expose patients to the risk of cavities, as well as infections. Vomiting also strains the esophagus; rarely, the esophagus may actually rupture, but more commonly, patients have difficulty swallowing as a result of lesions caused by regular vomiting. In addition, patients can experience gastrointestinal problems like constipation and diarrhea, caused by laxative abuse, as well as irregular nutrition.
Other effects of bulimia on health involve the internal organs. Many patients develop dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. This can cause damage to the liver and kidneys, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms, and brain injuries. Patients may develop seizures and neurological problems as a result of damage to the nervous system. Commonly, patients become anemic, and menstrual periods may stop or become highly intermittent in women with bulimia. Fractures can be a risk for many patients as poor nutrition leads to a loss in bone density.
Patients with bulimia are also at risk of psychological problems. Effects of bulimia on health can include an increased risk of substance abuse and self harming behaviors, and patients may also experience depression and mood swings. Lifelong psychiatric care is often recommended for patients with eating disorders to address body image, self esteem, and related matters. Since patients often develop a complex relationship with food and nutrition, there is a risk of relapse, especially in periods of stress. Regular appointments with a therapist can help patients catch and address returns to disordered eating early.
Severe bulimia can eventually lead to death, often as a result of cardiovascular problems. Patients who successfully recover from bulimia are at an increased risk later in life of pregnancy complications and cardiovascular disease due to the effects of bulimia on health.