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What is Bulimia Nervosa and what can one do to diagnose it?

Last updated April 21, 2016

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

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Bulimia Nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder that can stem from a wide variety of factors, ranging from genetics to family and societal pressures. Bulimia Nervosa can involve cycles of binging and purging, and tends to affect young females the most.

Bulimia Nervosa is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder that can stem from a wide variety of factors, ranging from genetics to family and societal pressures. Bulimia Nervosa can involve cycles of binging and purging, and tends to affect young females the most. However, all individuals are susceptible to developing Bulimia Nervosa regardless of gender, age, or ethnicity. Studies have shown that Bulimia Nervosa can even have debilitating effects on individuals below the age of fifteen years.

The diagnosis of Bulimia Nervosa begins with questions asked by a health care professional regarding an individual’s symptoms. If a health care provider suspects that an individual has Bulimia Nervosa, a psychological evaluation may be necessary in order to establish an accurate diagnosis. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, requires a diagnosis of Bulimia Nervosa to include recurrent episodes of binging and purging within a discrete period of time. The DSM-5 also states that an individual with Bulimia Nervosa generally feels a lack of control during a binging episode. Furthermore, individuals with Bulimia Nervosa normally participate in cycles of binging and purging at least once a week within a three month time period. The severity of diagnosis for Bulimia Nervosa is dependent on the number of times a week that the individual purges. 

A diagnosis for Bulimia Nervosa may also involve a physical exam conducted by a licensed health care provider. Results indicative of Bulimia Nervosa might show signs like broken blood vessels in the eyes due to persistent vomiting, dryness of the mouth, rashes, acne, and/or electrolyte imbalances. In addition to a complete physical exam, a health care provider may perform blood and urine tests to check for abnormalities such as hypokalemia, which can result from recurrent cycles of binging and purging.

Even if an individual does not meet the aforementioned criteria, they should still consult a health care professional if they exhibit any eating disorder symptoms.

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:

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

Fairburn, C. G., & Beglin, S. J. (1990). Studies of the epidemiology of bulimia nervosa. American journal of Psychiatry, 147(4), 401-408.

Strober, M., Freeman, R., Lampert, C., Diamond, J., & Kaye, W. (2000). Controlled family study of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: evidence of shared liability and transmission of partial syndromes. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157(3), 393-401.

Eddy, K. T., Dorer, D. J., Franko, D. L., Tahilani, K., Thompson-Brenner, H., & Herzog, D. B. (2008). Diagnostic crossover in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa: implications for DSM-V. American Journal of Psychiatry.

Kaye, W. H., Bulik, C. M., Thornton, L., Barbarich, N., Masters, K., & Price Foundation Collaborative Group. (2004). Comorbidity of anxiety disorders with anorexia and bulimia nervosa. American Journal of Psychiatry.

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

Fairburn, C. G., Cooper, Z., Doll, H. A., Norman, P., & O'Connor, M. (2000). The natural course of bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder in young women. Archives of General psychiatry, 57(7), 659-665.

Cathy Spegg, M. B. A., Goldbloom, D. S., Kennedy, S., Kaplan, A. S., & Woodside, D. B. (1995). Bulimia nervosa in a Canadian community sample: prevalence and comparison of subgroups. Am J Psychiatry, 1, 52.

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

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.

Vitousek, K., & Manke, F. (1994). Personality variables and disorders in anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Journal of abnormal psychology,103(1), 137.

Carlat, D. J., & Camargo, C. A. (1991). Review of bulimia nervosa in males.Am J Psychiatry, 148(7), 831-843.

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