Long Term Effects of Bulimia

Bulimia is a serious mental illness where the person binges on excessive food then purges the food. This purging can be by vomiting, use of laxatives, fasting or the use of enemas. Bulimia sufferers have a distorted body image. They can either be underweight or sometimes even obese. They purge their food intake as a way to control their weight gain. This condition is potentially life-threatening. A rapid diagnosis followed by the correct treatment is imperative to the person’s health and quality of life.

Long Term Effects of Bulimia

Regular purging of food robs the body of the nutrients from the food. This can lead to life-long health problems.Some effects of bulimia are:

1. Cardiac Problems

Electrolyte imbalances occur when there is regular purging of food. This can cause damage to the heart which can lead to heart attacks, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), etc. Bulimia can also lead to hypertension, seizures, extreme fatigue and severe headaches.

2. Abnormal Kidney Function

Poor nutrition can cause the kidneys to fail. This can lead to a build-up of toxins in the body causing kidney infections or in extreme cases, kidney failure. Abuse of laxatives can also strain normal kidney function.

3. Brittle Bones

A normal, healthy diet delivers sufficient vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus and other nutrients to the body to maintain healthy bones. Deficiencies of these nutrients will lead to osteoporosis (brittle bones) which is irreversible.

4. Digestive Disorders

Nerve damage in the stomach is one of long term effects of bulimia and may be permanent. Sufferers also may develop ulcers and bloating due to lazy bowel syndrome. Food becomes difficult to digest. The acidity of vomit can erode the teeth and create gum disease. Salivary glands become swollen due to the frequent vomiting. The acid can also cause an inflamed throat, esophagus and stomach. Normal colon function is also disrupted by abuse of laxatives and excessive use of enemas.

5. Reproductive Impairment

It is believed 90 % of all bulimics are women. Insufficient nutrient intake can lead to an impaired reproductive cycle. Menstruation may cease completely, never to resume normally again. The bulimic may never be able to conceive children. Women who become pregnant and continue purging their food may experience:

  • Stillbirth
  • Higher risk of C-section birth
  • Babies born with low weight
  • Premature delivery
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Miscarriage
  • Birth defects

6. Premature Aging

Bulimics exhibit signs of premature ageing. This is due to the long term effects of bulimia, such as dehydration, damage to the body's hormonal systems and lack of nutrients.

7. Psychological Problems

Bulimia sufferers may experience life-long psychological problems. It may present as depression, drug or alcohol abuse, or even inflicting self-harm. These habits are difficult to break and rewire the brain to stop these destructive habits.

Treatments for Bulimia

The bulimics need to be psychologically ready to accept help and treatment for bulimia, which is long-term. The first hurdle to overcome is to accept and recognize that you have a problem and be ready and willing to accept help. The success of the treatment will depend on many factors, like how long you have had it and the extent of the physical damage it has caused. The physical damage to the body, like the dehydration, will have to be treated as a matter of urgency. Here are some psychological therapies that may help and reduce the long term effects of bulimia.

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Treatment usually begins with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that is tailored to the individual patient. It involves changing the way the bulimic thinks so that they can make better choices about their behaviors in the future. The benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy:

  • It is a dynamic type of treatment that depends on the person's progress, goals or if there are any changes in their personal circumstances.
  • It is for a fixed number of weeks and the patient is continually monitored for progress to ensure goals set are achieved.
  • It does not dictate to the individual how they should feel.
  • Teaching new behaviors is followed up with homework assignments so that the individual is constantly applying the skills learned.
  • Each session has a specific goal to achieve. It is carefully planned out.
  • Although it falls into the category of psychotherapy, it is very separate to the old models of counseling.

2. Support from Treatment Centers

Find a treatment center that is dedicated to and experienced in helping bulimics reclaim their lives. Once you are able to alter your thought patterns, you will be on the path to recovery. Most eating disorder treatment centers offer activities like:

  • Individual sessions with a registered dietician
  • Meal-time support so that bulimics can learn how to prepare and plate their food. Sessions to investigate the patient’s relationship with food.
  • Weekly family sessions to include the whole family in the treatment plan. Also to address how the family can support the recovering bulimic.
  • Some centers specialize in equine, art and music therapy.
  • Patients are exposed slowly to normal life by being taken to restaurants, grocery shopping, etc.
  • Patients may also have access to faith-based support, if they are so inclined.

3. Interpersonal Psychotherapy

Another type of therapy is interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) which emphasizes how your relationships and feelings affect your bulimia. In IPT, you will recognize the relationships and emotions associated with binging and purging. The goal of treatment in CPT is to correct these negative relationship patterns so that you don’t binge and purge when you experience your negative emotional triggers.

If there are other underlying conditions such as depression or substance abuse, you may be prescribed some antidepressants. Both the counseling and medication will take some time to show results.

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