Signs & Symptoms of Bulimia

Sierra Tucson offers effective, comprehensive treatment for individuals struggling with addiction and mental health concerns. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of bulimia.

Understanding Bulimia

Learn about bulimia

Characterized by episodes of uncontrolled overeating followed by self-induced vomiting, bulimia nervosa is a perilous form of disordered eating that can render a number of devastating mental and physical health risks for sufferers. The binge-purge cycles of this condition are often driven by the intense desire to lose weight and achieve a desired body image. Those struggling with this dangerous disordered eating pattern often tie their self-esteem and self-worth to their physical appearance and go to great lengths to have the body shape and weight they desire.

Bulimia nervosa sufferers often abuse laxatives, diuretics, and enemas with the hope of preventing weight gain. However, long-term use of these substances can cause irreversible organ damage and other such effects if therapeutic intervention is not sought. Furthermore, those with this condition are likely to develop other mental health concerns if symptoms remain long-standing. Fortunately, there are effective treatment options available that can offer the life-saving care needed in order to live happy, healthy lives.


Bulimia statistics

Research has concluded that approximately 24 million people in the United States meet diagnostic criteria for disordered eating, and that number continues to rise. A serious mental health condition that typically begins during late adolescence or early adulthood, bulimia is said to affect more females than males. However, with greater awareness pertaining to the dangers associated, more males are now believed to be seeking treatment for bulimia nervosa.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for bulimia

There are certain causes and risk factors that can make an individual more vulnerable to bulimia nervosa than others. The following explanations expand upon these causes and risks and highlight the contributing factors that can increase an individual’s susceptibility to this form of disordered eating.

Genetic: A person’s family history is said to be a determinant for the development of bulimia nervosa. This conclusion was made when it was realized that some individuals who battle bulimia nervosa often have a family history of this condition as well. Finally, it is believed that individuals with a family history of depression or anxiety are also at an increased risk for the development of bulimia.

Environmental: It is widely believed by experts in the field of mental health that a person’s environment can greatly affect the development of bulimia nervosa symptoms. For example, individuals with a personal history of sexual and/or physical abuse are more likely to become bulimic at some point in life. Furthermore, it is believed that people who experience overwhelming stress or are exposed to violence and chaos also have an increased risk for engaging in this form of disordered eating. Lastly, many mental health professionals agree that individuals who exist in a culture in which being thin is prized are more likely to develop symptoms synonymous with bulimia nervosa.

Risk Factors:

  • Exposure to environments in which thinness is revered
  • Being the victim of sexual or physical abuse
  • Being female
  • Family history of bulimia nervosa or other mental health conditions
  • Personal history of mental health conditions

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of bulimia

The telltale signs of bulimia nervosa can vary from person-to-person. Depending on the length of time a person has been engaging in the harmful binging and purging habits that are characteristic of this disorder and the severity of the psychological distortions experienced by sufferers, this condition may or may not be so obvious. The listed behavioral, physical, cognitive, and psychosocial symptoms are those that are common among individuals with bulimia and should be reported to a mental health professional in the event that treatment is sought:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Fainting spells
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Engaging in ritualistic eating behaviors
  • Rigid dieting
  • Fasting
  • Inability to fulfill roles and/or responsibilities
  • Binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting
  • Abuse of laxatives, diuretics, and/or enemas
  • Excessive exercising

Physical symptoms:

  • Irregular bowel movements
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Imbalanced fluids and/or electrolytes
  • Low potassium levels
  • Calluses or scars on hands or knuckles
  • Constipation due to laxative abuse
  • Dehydration
  • Internal bleeding
  • Fluctuations in weight
  • Tooth discoloration
  • Tooth decay
  • Mouth sores
  • Swollen glands
  • Acid reflux
  • Ulcers
  • Swollen cheeks
  • Possessing a BMI greater than 18.5 but less than 30
  • Menstrual irregularity or amenorrhea (females only)

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Obsessions, compulsions, and/or preoccupation with food, weight, or body shape
  • Poor impulse control
  • Desire to control situations and environment
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Low self-worth
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Feelings of ineffectiveness
  • Overwhelming fear of gaining weight
  • Drastic shifts in mood
  • Depressed mood
  • Elevated anxiety levels
  • Low self-esteem


Effects of bulimia

The long-term effects of bulimia nervosa can oftentimes be far-reaching, affecting every area of an individual’s life. By not seeking treatment for this serious form of disordered eating, the following effects have the potential to occur:

  • Development of another mental health condition
  • Inability to maintain employment
  • Financial strife
  • Infertility
  • Rectal prolapse
  • Kidney failure
  • Ruptured stomach
  • Skeletal myopathy
  • Ruptured esophagus
  • Development of a substance abuse problem
  • Decline in quality and quantity of interpersonal relationships
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Suicide attempts
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Bulimia and co-occurring disorders

Those battling bulimia nervosa are known to suffer from additional mental health conditions at the same time, which is why Sierra Tucson treats bulimia nervosa as a secondary diagnosis to substance use and other mental health disorders. In many cases, individuals can develop compounding mental health concerns when in the throes of bulimia nervosa or experience exacerbated symptoms of a pre-existing mental illness. We view bulimia nervosa as a co-occurring disorder that exists in tandem with primary diagnoses such as addiction, trauma, a mood disorder, or chronic pain.

Sierra Tucson has been a wonderful change for my whole family. My marriage is stronger, my family is more peaceful, and I am fun to be around.

– Anonymous Client
Marks of Quality Care
These accreditations are an official recognition of our dedication to providing treatment that exceeds the standards and best practices of quality care.
  • Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA)
  • GeneSight
  • National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP)
  • National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems (NAPHS)
  • Neurostar
  • PsychArmor
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval