What are the Side Effects of Bulimia?

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  • Written By: J.L. Drede
  • Edited By: Jacob Harkins
  • Last Modified Date: 14 August 2019
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There are many side effects of bulimia nervosa that can have permanent and even life-threatening consequences. Side effects can include esophagus damage, hair loss, dry skin and insomnia. Some of the side effects may vanish after recovery from the disease, but other long-term side effects can continue to cause problems even after treatment has occurred and the behavior has stopped.

Bulimia is an eating disorder that occurs most often in adolescents, both male and female, between the ages of 13 and 20. It is a binge eating disorder that is commonly accompanied by compulsive vomiting to prevent weight gain. Other behaviors, such as excessive use of laxatives or periods of extreme fasting to counteract the periods of binging are common as well. Many bulimics will also go through periods of anorexia where they fast for extended periods before binging and purging again.

The frequent forced vomiting of bulimics is the cause of most of the side effects. Vomit contains caustic gastric acid, and it can cause damage to vocal cords, teeth, salivary glands and the esophagus. It can also lead to recurring gastric reflux even when not purging, peptic ulcers and dehydration. Binging and purging is extremely stressful on the body too and can lead to other side effects unrelated to gastric acid. Hair loss, insomnia, dry skin, osteoporosis and muscle weakness are common side effects that are caused by the malnutrition and stress that bulimia puts a body through.


Women may also suffer from additional side effects, including irregular periods and other menstrual dysfunctions that can even lead to infertility. Eventually bulimia can be fatal, with the disorder causing cardiovascular problems that in some cases can lead to complete heart failure. Even bulimics who use laxatives and diuretics in lieu of vomiting can suffer from serious side effects of bulimia. When abused, these drugs can damage the intestinal tract, cause chronic constipation and even kidney damage.

The mental side effects of bulimia are nearly as wide reaching and severe as the physical effects. Bulimics usually already suffer from low self esteem and body image, and the practice of binging and purging can exacerbate these feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred. These psychological effects can manifest themselves as wild mood swings, increased anxiety and severe depression. The psychological side effects can also lead to physical effects such as high blood pressure, stomach pain and muscle aches.

Even after a person recovers from the disorder, the side effects of bulimia can remain for years. The damage caused from gastric acid lasts long after a person stops purging, and may require surgery to correct. Kidney damage and even kidney disease that may require a transplant or removal are also possible long-term side effects of bulimia. In women the hormonal side effects of the disease can sometimes be permanent, often leading to problems with fertility later in life.


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