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Alternative Names
binging-purging, eating disorder, bulimia nervosa, hyperorexia

Bulimia is a chronic eating disorder. Individuals secretly eat large amounts of food in a short period. This is called binge eating. Then, to prevent weight gain, they self-induce vomiting, or use laxatives or diuretics, fast or perform rigorous exercise. There are often feelings of guilt, depression or self-disgust association with bulimia.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
  • fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
  • overachieving in a variety of areas
  • problems with body image
  • denial of the behaviour
  • decreased or no menstrual periods, called amenorrhoea
  • no eating followed by eating binges
  • excessive exercise, even if underweight
  • purging
  • unusual eating habits and rituals
  • frequent weighing

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Bulimia is thought to be a result of social, psychological and biological factors. Genetics may contribute. Mood disorders are more common in family members of those who develop bulimia.

Social factors play a major role. Some societies emphasise thinness. Family problems, self-esteem and identity conflicts are also factors. Bulimia is most common in females in adolescence or young adulthood.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
There are no specific ways to prevent bulimia. Promoting good nutrition and self-esteem are important. Changes in society's attitudes about thinness would help.

How is the condition diagnosed?
Bulimia is often difficult to diagnose. People with the disorder are secretive. The disorder can be undetected for a long time. Signs include dental cavities or gum infections from vomiting, fluid problems and dehydration, or low fluid levels in the body.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Long-term effects can be serious. These include cardiac, blood, digestive, kidney, bone and hormone problems. Depression, anxiety and thinking changes are other effects.

What are the treatments for the condition?
Denial of bulimia by the individual with the condition makes treatment difficult. It is not unusual for a family member to encourage treatment. Treatment is usually done on an outpatient basis. A team of doctors, therapists and nutritionists can be involved.

A prescribed diet and counselling are part of treatment. Correcting the binge-purge cycle and bad eating patterns is key. Antidepressants are sometimes used.

How is the condition monitored?
Those with bulimia often need long-term after-care counselling. This can help prevent relapse or repetition of the behaviours associated with this eating disorder.

Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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