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Do you know the Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa?

Last updated April 21, 2016

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Bulimia Nervosa is a potentially debilitating eating disorder where individuals participate in cycles of compulsive binging and purging in order to lose weight. Because Bulimia Nervosa can be considered a mental health disorder, individuals with Bulimia Nervosa often overvalue the concept of being thin and can develop a phobia of weight gain.


Bulimia Nervosa is a potentially debilitating eating disorder where individuals participate in cycles of compulsive binging and purging in order to lose weight. Because Bulimia Nervosa can be considered a mental health disorder, individuals with Bulimia Nervosa often overvalue the concept of being thin and can develop a phobia of weight gain.

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a medical diagnosis of Bulimia Nervosa involves a wide variety of signs and symptoms. In order for an individual to be diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa, they need to participate in recurrent episodes of binge eating. These regular episodes of binge eating need to fit two criteria: 1. the binging should occur within a discrete amount of time and 2. The individual should feel a lack of control over such episodes. An individual with Bulimia Nervosa might find themselves often eating until the point of discomfort on a regular basis and then forcibly vomiting out of fear of gaining weight.

A common sign and symptom of Bulimia Nervosa is when an individual undergoes recurrent purging behaviors after binging in order to avoid weight gain. These weight prevention behaviors are not always exclusive to purging. For example, excessive exercise and misuse of diuretics can also be considered a component of Bulimia Nervosa. These behaviors are thought to stem from preoccupations with body shape and weight, which can lead to inappropriate usage of laxatives or enemas after an episode of binging.

Other signs and symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa include swelling of the throat due to purging behaviors, irregular heartbeat, lack of or irregular menstruation in females, and progression of psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression. Bulimia Nervosa, which is more commonly found in young women, can generate menstrual cycle irregularity. Studies have demonstrated that high frequencies of vomiting, low thyroxine concentrations, and low dietary fat intake were each associated with irregular menses. The depression-like symptoms and fluctuations in body weight that can accompany Bulimia Nervosa are often visible, and have the potential to act as metabolic stresses on the body.

If an individual thinks that they or a loved one has the signs and symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa, it is imperative to seek the help of a healthcare professional as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment for Bulimia Nervosa can lead to a better overall prognosis for the individual.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD)
750 E Diehl Road #127 Naperville, IL 60563
Phone: (630) 577-1330
Email: anadhelp@anad.org
Website: http://www.anad.org

Mayo Clinic
200 First St. SW, Rochester, MN 55905
Phone: (507) 284-2511
Website: http://www.mayoclinic.org

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

ANAD. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.anad.org/?pagerd_m7bf6nfusor

Bulimia Nervosa | National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/bulimia-nervosa

Bulimia nervosa. (2016). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bulimia/symptoms-causes/dxc-20179827

Bulimia nervosa. (2016). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bulimia/manage/ptc-20179883

Bulimia: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2016, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000341.htm

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Evans, L., & Wertheim, E. H. (2005). Attachment styles in adult intimate relationships: Comparing women with bulimia nervosa symptoms, women with depression and women with no clinical symptoms. European Eating Disorders Review, 13(4), 285-293.

Shapiro, J. R., Berkman, N. D., Brownley, K. A., Sedway, J. A., Lohr, K. N., & Bulik, C. M. (2007). Bulimia nervosa treatment: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 40(4), 321-336.

Keel, P. K., & Mitchell, J. E. (1997). Outcome in bulimia nervosa. The American journal of psychiatry, 154(3), 313.

Russell, G. (1979). Bulimia nervosa: an ominous variant of anorexia nervosa.Psychological medicine, 9(03), 429-448.

Faris, P. L., Kim, S. W., Meller, W. H., Goodale, R. L., Oakman, S. A., Hofbauer, R. D., ... & Hartman, B. K. (2000). Effect of decreasing afferent vagal activity with ondansetron on symptoms of bulimia nervosa: a randomised, double-blind trial. The Lancet, 355(9206), 792-797.

Cooper, P. J., & Fairburn, C. G. (1986). The depressive symptoms of bulimia nervosa. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 148(3), 268-274.

Safer, D. L., Telch, C. F., & Agras, W. S. (2001). Dialectical behavior therapy for bulimia nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(4), 632-634.

Fairburn, C. G., Jones, R., Peveler, R. C., Carr, S. J., Solomon, R. A., O'Connor, M. E., ... & Hope, R. A. (1991). Three psychological treatments for bulimia nervosa: A comparative trial. Archives of General Psychiatry,48(5), 463-469.

Fairburn, C. G., & Garner, D. M. (1986). The diagnosis of bulimia nervosa.International Journal of Eating Disorders, 5(3), 403-419.

Adkins, E. C., & Keel, P. K. (2005). Does “excessive” or “compulsive” best describe exercise as a symptom of bulimia nervosa?. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 38(1), 24-29.

Habermas, T. (1989). The psychiatric history of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: Weight concerns and bulimic symptoms in early case reports.International Journal of Eating Disorders, 8(3), 259-273.

Peñas‐Lledó, E., Vaz Leal, F. J., & Waller, G. (2002). Excessive exercise in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: relation to eating characteristics and general psychopathology. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 31(4), 370-375.

Kennedy, S. H., Kaplan, A. S., Garfinkel, P. E., Rockert, W., Toner, B., & Abbey, S. E. (1994). Depression in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: discriminating depressive symptoms and episodes. Journal of psychosomatic research, 38(7), 773-782.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: April 21, 2016
Last updated: April 21, 2016

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