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Bulimia, also called bulimia nervosa, is an eating disorder. Someone with bulimia might binge on food and then vomit (purge) in a cycle of binging and purging. Binge eating refers to quickly eating large amounts of food over short periods of time. Purging involves forced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diet pills, diuretics (which control blood pressure by increasing urination), or other medications due to a fear of gaining weight. It might also involve excessive exercise, dieting, or fasting in an attempt to lose weight that might be gained from eating food or binging. The bulimia sufferer might induce vomiting by putting their finger down their throat or by consuming a substance that causes vomiting, like syrup of ipecac.
Affecting nearly 1% of people in the United States at sometime in their lifetime, bulimia affects millions of people, women more often than men. Other statistics about bulimia include its tendency to affect more than 3% of women and that its frequency of occurrence has doubled since the 1960s.
The risks associated with bulimia are many. People with this or other eating disorders also often suffer from a personality disorder, substance abuse problem, or a mood problem, like depression or anxiety.
The strict medical definition of bulimia used by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) requires an average of at least one binge-purge episode a week for at least three months to make the diagnosis, but it's likely that some people with symptoms of bulimia may not fit these exact criteria.
A person with bulimia often feels a loss of control over their eating, in that they engage in compulsive overeating, as well as have guilt about their behavior. They are usually aware that their behavior is abnormal. Bulimia is most common in adolescent and young adult women. Despite the repeated binge-purge cycles, people with bulimia are often of normal or near-normal weight, which makes them different from people with anorexia nervosa (an eating disorder in which the person severely limits how much they eat). Bulimia is also different from binge eating disorder, an eating disorder in which the sufferer engages in recurring episodes of binge eating without engaging in purging behaviors to try to control his or her weight.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/17/2014
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