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What Exactly is Purging Disorder?

written by: ChelseaOliver • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 11/5/2010

Purging disorder is characterized by recurrent bout of purging. This article also discusses the differences between purging disorder and anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

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    While purging disorder is a relatively new diagnosis in the field of eating disorders, many studies are being conducted in order to give the disorder validity and distinctiveness. It is quickly establishing itself from the diagnosis of eating disorder not otherwise specified, or ED-NOS, and is becoming important to consider during the diagnosis of an eating disorder. Read on to find out why.

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    What is Purging Disorder?

    Purging disorder is an eating disorder characterized by frequent purging behaviors with the absence of episodes of binge eating. Like bulimia nervosa, it involves the drive to compensate for the consumption of food. This lack of binging is what sets purging disorder apart bulimia nervosa.

    The condition is characterized by the consumption of normal, or even less than normal amounts of food prior to the individual engaging in the purging behaviors, which include vomiting, over-exercising, and the abuse of laxatives.

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    Causes

    Purging disorder has not yet been studied as thoroughly as its well established counterparts, but it is currently believed that it may have similar causes as anorexia and bulimia nervosa. In a study conducted by Gordon et al, it was found that individuals with purging disorder displayed analogous levels of the desire for thinness as those with binge eating disorder and anorexia. Also, those with binge eating disorder were found to have similar levels of purging ideation as those with bulimia nervosa.

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    Signs and Symptoms

    The signs that someone suffers from purging disorder could include frequent trips to the bathroom after meals, as well as excessive amounts of time spent performing forms of exercise. Individuals can also often suffer from comorbid depression and anxiety. Symptoms of the disorder are similar to that of bulimia, such as swollen salivary glands from frequent vomiting, and hypokalemia, a condition where the level of potassium in the blood is too low. The causes further symptoms ranging in severity such as cramps and muscle weakness, and even respiratory problems.

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    Treatment

    Since purging disorder is relatively new, there is not yet any evidence based treatment models for it. While some think that treatments for bulimia nervosa would also be helpful in treating purging disorder, there are significant differences in the disorders to persuade some that much more research needs to be conducted. However, talk therapy and anti-depressants are considered to be good starting points for those with comorbid anxiety and depression.

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    Differences from Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa

    Anorexia nervosa has a rigid set of rules for diagnosis; one must have an intense fear of weight gain, as well as a distorted body image and the refusal to maintain a normal weight. However, purging disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa. While purging disorder involves eating normal amounts of food, bulimia nervosa is characterized by recurrent binging, or episodes where an incredibly large amount of food is consumed, occurring prior to the purging behaviours.

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    What is Purging Disorder? References

    Psychological Correlates of Purging Disorder as Compared with Other Eating Disorders: An Exploratory Investigation, International Journal of Eating Disorders, 42:1 31-39 2009

    Purging Disorder, Pamela Keel PH.D, May 1 2008, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/display/article/10168/1159347

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