Beneath the Surface: Medical Complications of Bulimia
Since most people with bulimia are of normal weight, the illness can be missed – even by medical professionals, family and close friends. While the damage may not manifest on the surface, however, bulimia can have serious – even fatal – medical consequences.
Bulimia is characterized by a pattern of binge eating, or eating a substantial amount of food in a short period of time, followed by harmful compensatory behaviors in order to prevent weight gain or offset the amount of calories consumed during the binge. Some compensatory behaviors can include self-induced vomiting and laxative use.
Here are just a few of the medical complications associated with bulimia:
1. Heart Problems
Individuals who suffer from bulimia often have electrolyte imbalances as a result of self-induced vomiting. Low levels of potassium, a critical electrolyte, can cause irregular heartbeats which in turn can lead to heart failure. Serious electrolyte disturbances may be undetectable to the sufferer and only identified through a blood test.
2. Tooth Erosion
Long-term self-induced vomiting can cause tooth sensitivity, gum disease and enamel erosion–the acidity of the vomit essentially wears away the enamel of the teeth. Not surprisingly, over years, the teeth become highly sensitive, misshapen (worn down or into points) and susceptible to cracking or decay.
Hormone imbalances disrupt the reproductive system, narrowing the chances of becoming pregnant. Women who engage in bingeing and purging during pregnancy can put themselves and their babies at risk of miscarriage, premature birth, maternal high blood pressure and birth defects.
4. Ruptured Esophagus
Frequent self-induced vomiting increases the likelihood of tearing your esophagus due to high acidity.
The good news is that the most serious medical consequences of bulimia – like electrolyte and heart abnormalities – resolve with the cessation of purging. It’s also important to note the Enhanced Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (click here for more about CBT-E) is an effective treatment that helps the majority of bulimia sufferers recover within the course of treatment.