Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder with symptoms that commonly include repeated episodes of extreme overeating followed by self-induced vomiting, lack of control over this binge-purge cycle, and a poor or unrealistic body image. You may already know that bulimia can lead to serious health problems such as dehydration, inflammation of the esophagus, tooth decay, electrolyte imbalances and potentially fatal changes in normal heart function. However, the disorder can also produce a range of less well-known side effects.
#1 Altered or Absent Menstruation
Changes in menstruation are a well-known potential effect of another eating disorder, anorexia nervosa. However, they also frequently occur as side effects of bulimia. As many as half of all teenagers and women affected by the disorder will stop menstruating altogether for extended periods of time. Substantial numbers will also menstruate intermittently or experience a reduced menstrual flow.
#2 Kidney Damage
Some people with bulimia abuse diuretic medications in an attempt to encourage weight loss after binging episodes. These medications work by increasing the amount of sodium in your urine and encouraging increased urine output. Unfortunately, ongoing diuretic abuse can damage your kidneys and eventually trigger the onset of kidney failure. Without prompt medical attention this condition can be fatal.
#3 A Ruptured Esophagus
When you vomit repeatedly, exposure to powerful stomach acids can irritate the tissues of your esophagus, which forms the connection between your throat and stomach. In severe cases, this acid exposure can produce small tears in the wall of your esophagus. In a worst-case scenario, it can also produce a full esophagus rupture.
#4 Lung/Chest Problems
In a small number of cases, bulimia side effects can also include a condition called aspiration pneumonia. This condition occurs when an infection or inflammation affects the passageway leading to your lungs or your lungs themselves. In a person with bulimia, the typical cause of aspiration pneumonia is accidental inhalation of vomited food during a purging episode. A very small number of individuals dealing with the eating disorder develop another chest-related condition called pneumomediastinum, which occurs when air abnormally fills the mediastinum, a cavity located between your lungs.
#5 Pregnancy Alterations
Bulimia can seriously alter the outcome of a pregnancy. Known potential problems include an increased chance of miscarriage, increased risks for stillbirth and increased chances of needing a C-section during delivery. Additional problems found in pregnant women with bulimia include increased risks for hypertension and increased odds of experiencing a breech birth.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office of Women’s Health: Bulimia Nervosa Fact Sheet
National Eating Disorders Association: Bulimia Nervosa
Medscape: Bulimia Nervosa