May 24, 2024

What are the symptoms of bulimia?

Bulimia nervosa, also known as bulimia, is a severe, life-threatening mental illness and eating disorder. Individuals with bulimia are often engaged in a cycle of bingeing followed by purging. Bingeing, or binge eating, is consumption of large quantities of food in one sitting. Purging, on the other hand, is getting rid of excessive calories in an unhealthy way.

It arises from the guilt of overeating and trying inappropriate ways to reduce weight such as self-induced vomiting, fasting, using excessive amounts of laxatives and diuretics, and compulsive exercising.

If you are suffering from bulimia, you are probably secretly bingeing and purging. You feel ashamed of yourself for bingeing and later feel much relieved once you have purged it out. Bulimia can be fatal but with effective treatment you can feel better about yourself and reverse unwanted serious complications. Meet your doctor and seek assistance before it is too late.

Signs and symptoms:

Signs and symptoms of bulimia may be divided into physical symptoms, behavioral and emotional symptoms.

Physical symptoms:

  • Noticeable weight fluctuations
  • Complaints of non-specific gastrointestinal problems such as stomach cramps, constipation and acid reflux
  • Smell of vomit in the breath
  • Abnormal lab findings such as anemia, low blood pressure, low heart rate, low thyroid and hormone levels.
  • Unusual swelling of cheek and jaw area
  • Dizziness
  • Syncope
  • Severe dehydration
  • Dry skin
  • Dry and brittle nails
  • Lanugo
  • Calluses on the back of hands and knuckles due to self-induced vomiting ( also known as Russell’s sign)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Carotenosis
  • Discoloration of teeth
  • Poor wound healing
  • Impaired immune functions
  • Menstrual irregularities for women

Behavioral & Emotional symptoms:

  • Shows evidence of binge eating ( large amount of food disappears in a short period of time)
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom after a meal (evidence of purging)
  • Hoarding or stealing of food
  • Uncomfortable to eat around others or in the public
  • Often skips meals or takes meals in small portions
  • Excessive usage of mouthwash, mints and gums
  • Always distress about body weight and shape
  • Excessive consumption of water
  • Excessive exercising
  • Extreme mood swings

Risk factors:

Statistically, women are more likely to suffer from bulimia than men. Bulimia often begins around early adulthood. Risk factors of bulimia nervosa are divided into:

Biological factors:

  • Family history of eating disorders or bulimia nervosa
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Tendencies to impulsivity or to do something in the spur of the moment
  • Tendencies to binge eating
  • Neural sensitivity towards rewards, particularly towards food reward system

Psychological factors:

  • History of abuse or trauma
  • Prior mental health diagnosis
  • Always have negative body image or self image
  • Inability to exert control over their own emotions
  • Low self esteem
  • Depression
  • Tends to engage in a career or a hobby related to body appearances


Bulimia may cause some serious and also life-threatening complications such as:

  • Erosion of tooth enamel due to constant exposure to stomach acid
  • Dental cavities and discoloration of teeth
  • Tooth sensitive towards hot or cold food
  • Gum infection
  • Inflamed throat
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Stomach or esophagus rupture
  • Dehydration, which leads to more serious medical problems such as kidney failure
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Heart attack, in severe cases
  • Have lower sex drives
  • Higher risks for self-injury and suicidal behavior


“Prevention is better than cure”. Although there are no perfect guidelines to prevent bulimia, you can steer yourself or even others towards a healthier lifestyle before the situation becomes worse.

Here are some ways to prevent bulimia in yourself:

  • Practice a healthy eating habits
  • Have regular, enjoyable family meals
  • Develop a healthy body image
  • Build up your self-esteem
  • Look for a positive role model
  • Find a positive balance in life

You can also help prevent others from bulimia by:

  • Being a positive role model
  • Avoid judging others
  • Teach others to respect themselves
  • Recognize the symptoms of bulimia
  • Express concern if you see an eating disorder

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