Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia, or bulimia nervosa, is a serious eating disorder. In this article we learn about the origins of bulimia, some facts related to bulimia, and some common complications and treatment options for teenagers suffering from bulimia nervosa.

Also called bulimia and bulimarexia, bulimia nervosa combines the word bulimia which means “ox hunger” (which we can interpret as a very great hunger) and nervosa, which refers to the nervous system. People who suffer with bulimia nervosa are referred to as bulimics.

Diagnostic Criteria for Bulimia Nervosa

The diagnostic criteria for bulimia help distinguish it from other disorders, which is important, since part of the behavior is identical to that found in binge eating disorder (BED), but the bulimic alternates binging behavior with compensation of some sort. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) specifies that a person with bulimia meets the following criteria:

Binging: consumption of a considerably larger amount of food in a discrete period than most people would consume in similar circumstances and timeframe and concurrent feeling of loss of control over one’s eating during that period of time.

Compensating: Inappropriate behaviors to compensate for the calorie intake during binging to prevent weight gain. These can fall into two categories:

Purging: self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse, diuretics, enemas

Nonpurging: fasting, excessive exercise

Whichever combination of behaviors occurs on at least two days a week over a period of three months.

But beyond what it says in the DSM, it is known through research that some people have an eating disorder in which they purge without having binged previously. Professor Pamela Keel of the University of Iowa has done research on this phenomenon, and sees it as a separate disorder. Her work was made public in September, 2007. There is also a recent phenomenon referred to as diabulimia among type 1 diabetics - most of whom are young girls and women - who manipulate their insulin in an attempt to reduce their weight.

Especially in light of developments like this, it is absolutely crucial to recognize that a person who does not exactly meet these criteria may still be suffering from an eating disorder and be at risk. If you suspect that you or someone else has an eating disorder, seek assistance, even if the person does not meet all these criteria.

Bulimia Nervosa Facts and Statistics

Bulimia tends to begin at the end of childhood or the beginning of the adult years, and is difficult to recognize both because bulimics may maintain a weight in the normal range and because bulimics work to hide their behaviors. Bulimia is thought to affect about 3% of all women, about 6% of teen girls, and about 5% of college-age young women. About 10% of all bulimics are men. If you think that eating disorders are clear and distinct categories, note this: 50% of anorexics develop bulimia nervosa.

Origins of Bulimia nervosa

As with other eating disorders, bulimia nervosa seems to arise from a variety of factors, which may include a genetic component, biological factors such as a neurotransmitter level issue or metabolic irregularities, in addition to dissatisfaction with one’s body, and low self-esteem. It is thought that it is likely to occur after a succession of unsuccessful dieting attempts. However, the underlying causes of bulimia nervosa have not yet been completely determined.

Related Issues and Complications

A study published in 2008 revealed that girls with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) found that girls with both inattention and hyperactivity were more likely to have bulimia nervosa symptoms than girls who were only inattentive or did not have ADHD. It is believed that their impulsivity may set them up for difficulty in controlling eating behaviors.

About 20 - 40% of bulimic women have had either a drug or an alcohol use problem. Depression commonly coincides with bulimia, and bulimics are at greater risk for suicide. It is also linked to anxiety and body image disturbances, and the cycle of binging and purging can become an obsession.

The more problematic physical results include:

  • dental issues, including cavities and erosion of enamel (from vomiting)
  • pain in the salivary glands (from vomiting)
  • stomach and esophagus problems
  • arrhythmia
  • heart attack

Treatment of Bulimia nervosa

Multi-faceted treatment is necessary to address physical issues and underlying and resulting psychological issues. Counseling is combined with nutrition information and sometimes medication, such as antidepressants. Much, including whether treatment can be handled on an outpatient basis, depends on the particular situation of each patient.



Related Article: Preventing Eating Disorders >>