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What are the Physical and Mental Health Effects of Bulimia?

written by: Melinda F. • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 11/15/2010

The presence of bulimia in females is very apparent but most people don't know that bulimia affects males as well. Bulimia is most common in Western civilization and the effects of bulimia, both short term and long term, are serious and life-threatening.

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    Effects of Self-Induced Vomiting

    Those suffering from bulimia will make themselves vomit after eating to get rid of the food for fear of gaining weight. Vomiting excessively can cause a number of health problems but the most noticeable effect is teeth discoloration. The stomach acid associated with vomiting will cause the enamel on the teeth to wear away and also cause differences in the coloring of teeth. The number of cavities in those with bulimia is often times unusually high as well.

    Some of the more serious effects of bulimia from vomiting include tearing of the esophagus or gastroesophageal junction, gastrointestinal bleeding and even the possibility of stomach rupturing or erosion. Cancer risk of the voice box and esophagus is also increased due to excessive damage being done to the larynx, lungs and esophagus from vomiting.

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    Dangers of Prolonged Laxative Use

    Laxatives are used to help flush food out of the body usually after a food binge. The use of laxatives can be very dangerous, especially when used on a regular basis. This is because the normal function of the colon is disrupted. It can take weeks for the colon to return to its normal functioning after a person quits taking laxatives. In severe cases, some people will even need to have surgery done to restore normal colon function.

    Dehydration can also occur along with electrolyte imbalances which can cause a great deal of damage to the kidneys, heart and brain that could result in death. Both vomiting and laxative use can create an electrolyte imbalance. Minerals such as calcium, potassium and sodium all work together to provide a good balance. The use of laxatives can easily prevent the body from maintaining proper levels of those minerals which will create an imbalance.

    The reason it is so important to keep electrolytes balanced is because they are what keep our hearts beating at a steady rate. An imbalance can cause an irregular heartbeat which could result in death.

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    Binge Eating Dangers

    The dangers of binge eating aren't as serious as the effects that self-induced vomiting and laxative use have on the body but still, they should not be ignored.

    Binge eating can also do a lot of damage to the esophagus and can even lead to tears or rupturing of the stomach. Ulcers and acid reflux are also common effects of bulimia from binge eating.

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    Mental Health and Bulimia

    When an eating disorder is present there is likely a co-existing psychological illness as well. Sometimes those suffering from eating disorders will have a mental illness to begin with and other times people will develop mental illnesses while they're struggling with an eating disorder. Depression, anxiety and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder often co-exist with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating.

    When seeking treatment for the effects of bulimia, it's important to treat any psychological illness that is present in addition to the eating disorder itself. With proper treatment, those suffering from bulimia or other eating disorders can go on to live a normal, healthy and happy life once again.

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    References

    Mirror-Mirror.org: Statistics on Bulimia

    Something-Fishy.org: Dangers of an Eating Disorder

    MedicineNet.com: Bulimia Nervosa

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