Bulimia complications are guaranteed if you suffer from this illness - even for a short time. I binged and purged for over a decade and experienced many of the hideous side effects of bulimia, including losing many of my teeth. (For advice on how to prevent bulimia related tooth decay, click here)
Of course, the longer you're bulimic - the worse the bulimia complications will be... and although bulimia causes havoc on your appearance (hello aging skin, hello decaying teeth, hello chipmunk cheeks!) The complications of bulimia aren't only cosmetic.
Bulimia can kill. In fact, I am still amazed that my body survived its 10+ year bulimia marathon. Purging upwards of 15 times a day caused not only massive mental suffering, but physical suffering too.
In this article I want to educate you on the extreme dangers in bulimia. I don't want to do this to create fear or panic - but to eliminate denial. Then, at the end of this article, I will let you in on a secret.
Sometimes, repeated, self-induced vomiting can cause little tears in the esophagus. These tears are called Mallory-Weiss tears. Often people with Mallory-Weiss tears will notice blood in their vomit.
Although it's disturbing seeing blood in your vomit - this is not normally one of the most serious bulimia physical effects. However, if you have any concerns and especially if there is a lot of blood, it's worth seeing a doctor for peace of mind.
Mallory Weiss tears usually heal in a couple of days without treatment. During those days, try to be extra gentle with your body and reduce purging as much as you possibly can.
One of the very common bulimia complications is dehydration. You lose fluids when you throw up and/or use diuretics and laxatives.
The serious dangers of being dehydrated are kidney failure, heart failure, seizures, brain damage and even death. Yes, these are in severe cases of dehydration... but you may become so used to being dehydrated - that you don't realize how serious your case is.
For this reason (along with heart failure that I talk about further down this page) it's worth carrying a water bottle with some sort of electrolytes replenishing drink which you sip regularly.
Possibly he biggest complaint people have in bulimia recovery (and I was no different!) is that you simply don't seem able to digest food properly anymore. This is because the body becomes so used to throwing food up (instead of digesting normally) that all the natural balances in the digestive system get out of whack. An imbalance of gut bacteria occurs, digestive enzyme production can be altered and your esophageal sphincters (in charge of holding food down) become weakened.
My esophageal sphincters were so weak after 10 years of bulimia that I was unable to hold a regular sized meal down without constant vomiting and reflux. When I began my recovery and stopped purging, there were times I had to sleep sitting upright otherwise I would involuntarily vomit on my pillow.
This severe form of reflux does cause a very slight increase in your chances of developing a condition called Barrett's Esophagus... which in rare cases can lead to cancer. It's a scary thought, but luckily it's pretty easy to screen for Barretts Esophagus... If you have any concerns, I'd suggest talking to your doctor about it.
Added to the discomfort of involuntary vomiting and reflux is the discomfort of bloating. Bloating can occur both while actively bulimic and in recovery (any time you attempt to digest food rather than purge it). I remember thinking that the bloating was the hardest side effect of bulimia recovery to overcome. I felt so fat. The important thing to remember is that it is temporary and it will go away. You are not fat - you are healing!
As hard as these digestive side effects are to live with, they can be completely healed!
My digestive system is back to optimum health and my metabolism is faster than I ever remember it being in my life. This is what recovery can do for you if you go about it in the right way. The type of recovery I'm talking about here is the one where food is never an issue for you again. It's a recovery that I PROMISE you can have and if you would like to learn more about it, read about my recovery program.
One of the most common bulimia side effects is Anemia (low iron) which can make you feel constantly tired and lethargic. I suffered from low iron for most of the 10 years that I was bulimic, and there's a good chance that you're suffering from it too.
Some signs that you are Anemic are fatigue, shortness of breath, infections and heart palpitations. All things I experienced daily during the worst years of my bulimia.
Anemia will also cause you to look pale and sickly and can give you those not-so-pretty grey bags beneath your eyes. Just another example of how bulimia wrecks the way you look!
A simple blood test will tell you if you are anemic or not... If you are, it's a simple fix. Taking iron supplements should help you to see an improvement in your energy levels within a few weeks.
Thinning of your bones is probably the most irreversible of all the bulimia complications. It's caused by a lack of nutrients and lowered hormone levels. Your bones can become brittle and break or fracture easily.
In serious cases, where your nutrition has been poor for a long time, Osteoporosis can develop. The symptoms of this painful disease are loss of height, constant back pain and a hunched posture. Osteoporosis is more common amongst anorexics - but because both anorexia and bulimia are closely linked in many way, it's also a risk for those suffering bulimia.
Osteoporosis is normally seen old grannies and grandpa's, but having an eating disorder can cause it to develop at a young age. A shocking 50% of young anorexics have osteoporosis.
When you suffer from bulimia you will often lose your period, develop hormonal imbalances, vitamin deficiencies and even malnutrition. All of these factors can affect your ability to have children.
I lost my period for 2 years and suffered from eating disorders for over a decade... Because of this I was worried that I was infertile. Thankfully in 2014 (after 8 years of health and happiness) I was blessed with a beautiful baby girl. It always amazes me how when we love and respect our bodies, they can do so much healing.
Having bulimia during a pregnancy can have some dangerous side effects too. There are a number of complications you could experience... Including miscarriage and postnatal depression. Please visit my bulimia pregnancy page for more info and recovery tips.
To me, the most worrying of all the bulimia complications is the risk of sudden heart failure. Our bodies are simply not designed to vomiting regularly for long periods of time. This level of physical stress can cause heart palpitations, heart attacks and death.
When I was bulimic it was the pain in my chest and the irregular beating of my heart that made me realize the devastating consequences bulimia was having on my body.
There are substances in your blood called electrolytes (potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium) which play a role in triggering the electrical impulses in your heart. Purging causes an imbalance in these Electrolytes. An imbalance which simply put, can cause your heart to stop beating.
Whenever I hear of a young person dying from a heart attack, I always wonder if they were battling bulimia in secret. The actress Brittany Murphy is one person who comes to mind. I feel sick in my stomach knowing how unaware people are of this risk, especially considering there are simple ways you can protect yourself...
To help prevent having a heart attack from bulimia, please follow this advice...
Always replenish your electrolytes after purging. Always.
A simple way to do this is by drinking a big glass of coconut water or having a pre-made electrolyte replenisher.
I was nervous of writing this article because I don't think that it's helpful using fear to motivate recovery... but then neither do I think it's helpful (or safe) to live in denial about how dangerous bulimia actually is. In the end I decided I wanted to share the reality of the dangers in bulimia...
But I also wanted to share another reality...
The reality of your complete recovery.
...The reality that you can prevent all of the bulimia complications talked about on this page by recovering.
...The reality that you can have a healthy and fun relationship with food.
I know what you're thinking...
Can I let you in on a secret? You're not different. You're not worse. You're not hopeless!
Using the techniques I teach in my Bulimia Recovery Program I've seen hundreds of women (who once thought they were hopeless) beat bulimia and go on to live happy and peaceful lives!
Bulimia is not for life. Bulimia is just something you have done up until this point. It feels like it owns you and controls you - yes, that is your past truth, but that is not your future truth.
The truth is that you are a beautiful and strong women with a body and brain that can be healthy and free.
Article by Shaye Boddington
Author of your-bulimia-recovery.com
and creator of The Bulimia Recovery Program and Community