Published on May 10, 2024 at 8:00 / Updated on May 25, 2024 at 8:00

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that can have consequences on a person's health.

When a person has bulimia, they experience repeated episodes of binge eating (eating a very large amount of food in a short period of time). These episodes are typically accompanied by feelings of guilt and losing control. This leads to certain compensatory behaviours to avoid weight gain. Examples include:

  • Self-induced vomiting, either manually or using certain products
  • Using laxatives or diuretics to cause weight loss
  • Adopting a strict diet or fasting
  • Engaging in excessive exercise

Binge eating and compensatory behaviours are usually practised secretly. People with bulimia nervosa are typically of average or slightly above-average weight.

Several complications are associated with bulimic behaviours, such as the following:

  • Imbalance of electrolytes (e.g., potassium) in the blood
  • Damage to the digestive system
  • Heart damage following long-term use of ipecac syrup to induce vomiting
  • More rarely, death

Causes and triggers

Binge eating episodes are often triggered by emotional stress. More women are affected by this eating disorder than men. Bulimia nervosa occurs primarily in adolescents and young adults.

Psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression often accompany bulimia.


Treatment for bulimia nervosa focuses on restoring normal eating habits. Treatment generally includes:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Certain medications (e.g., antidepressants)

When should I see a health care professional?

Consult a health care professional if you or someone you know is showing symptoms of bulimia.

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