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Bulimia Nervosa is alternatively known as Binge-Purge Behavior. Bulimia Nervosa is a serious disorder that can be life threatening, if left untreated. It is characterized by a cycle of food binging, followed by induced vomiting. The patient often has a feeling of being "out of control" when they binge. This is countered by extreme measures, including purging, abuse of laxatives, enemas, diuretics and diet pills, and intensive exercise regimens. Patients with Bulimia Nervosa may exhibit extreme weight fluctuations, normal at times, then losing and gaining weight in cycles.
The vicious cycle of binging and purging results in feelings of guilt, failure, and low self esteem. Patients practice the ritual of binge and purge in private. The food they eat is often sweet, high in calories, and of a size and texture that makes it easy to eat fast, so the patient is not interrupted while they are eating. For some bulimics, any amount or type of food -- a green salad or half an orange -- is seen as a binge. Binges may occur several times a day, over many months.
Many patients manage to maintain normal, or even above normal body weight, so they can hide their problem for years. Some Bulimia Nervosa patients may also suffer from Anorexia Nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by severe and chronic weight loss, and a condition of ‘starvation’. Bulimia can be coincident with other psychiatric disorders like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and substance abuse.
The exact cause of bulimia is not known, but contributory factors may include family conflict, and the current cultural obsession with the very thin body image as perfection. Patients are often perfectionists, with a family environment that overemphasizes a thin body. Some research supports the idea that a child who is ‘chubby’ in adolescence, or has a genetic tendency toward obesity, may be predisposed to this disorder.
What are the symptoms?
The binging and purging of Bulimia can lead to serious medical complications. Like most eating disorders, symptoms of the disorder are separated into primary symptoms– visible signs of weight loss, strange eating behaviors – and secondary medical symptoms that occur over time, as a result of the disorder.
The recurring binge-purge cycles of Bulimia Nervosa can be very harmful, damaging the digestive organs and leading to chemical and electrolyte imbalances that damage the heart and major organs.
How is it diagnosed and treated?
Bulimia Nervosa is sometimes difficult to diagnose. Binging and purging are usually done in secret and are easily concealed if the family and friends of the patient are not looking for symptoms, especially since Bulimics often maintain a normal weight. Doctors will perform a dental exam to look for an unusually high occurrence of cavities or gum infection. A series of blood tests can uncover imbalances in blood, electrolytes. There are five criterions for bulimia diagnosis:
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