Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder most commonly known for the binging and purging actions of the sufferer. Bulimics will go on eating binges, where they eat uncontrollably for a short period of time, and then will induce vomiting in hopes of compensating for the calorie intake and prevent weight gain.
Not all bulimics, however, induce vomiting. There is a second kind of bulimia, where the sufferer employs other behaviors, including fasting and extreme exercise. The sufferers of bulimia nervosa usually maintain average or above average weights, so they may be difficult to recognize.
They realize that they have a problem, however, and try very hard to hide it. On the other hand, they may not be against talking about matters related to diet. Bulimics are usually depressed and low self-esteem, feel isolated and alone, and may have insulting thoughts towards themselves.
The way they feel about themselves is based almost entirely on their appearance, so they become obsessed with their weight. One sign of the purging type of bulimia is excessive use of the bathroom after meals, which is when the person induces vomiting.
They may purchase large amounts of food that quickly disappear, and they may avoid eating around others to hide their unusual behavior.
Physical problems can include erosion of tooth enamel, caused by the stomach acid in vomit, tears in the esophagus, also caused by the stomach acid, swelling of the salivary glands, causing jaw swelling, rough skin on the back of the hand, caused by repeatedly using the fingers, which rub on the teeth, to induce vomiting, and signs of dehydration and weakness. Ipecac, commonly used to induce vomiting, can lead to heart failure and death.
Signs of the non-purging type of bulimia can also include the quick disappearance of large amounts of food, possibly followed by excessive exercise. People with this type may eat large amounts of food, and then go for long periods of time without eating anything.
They also will avoid eating around others to hide their problem. They might use diuretics and laxatives to increase their bodily output and keep weight off. The use of these drugs can cause irregular heartbeat and loss of proper heart function.
They may also show signs of dehydration and weakness from the use of the drug and excessive exercise, plus the practice of fasting between binges. Without treatment, both types of bulimia can lead to serious problems, including kidney and heart problems, heart attacks, digestive problems, and even death.