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Bulimia - What will happen to me?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

If you have had bulimia for a long time, it can start to affect your body and lead to health problems.

It's important to know how big a problem this disease can be. Here are some of the ways it can harm your body.

  • Vomiting can make your body lose too much water. This can lead to kidney stones. Vomiting can also upset the balance of chemicals in your bloodstream, which can damage your muscles and heart.

  • Being sick all the time can cause damage to your stomach and the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (your oesophagus).

  • Women who have bulimia for many years can have trouble getting pregnant. Sometimes this is because their periods have stopped.

  • If your bulimia is very severe, it can make your heartbeat irregular, which could even make your heart stop beating. This is because it upsets the balance of chemicals in your body.

These things are more likely to happen if you've had bulimia for a long time (several years) or if you vomit a lot (say, two or three times a day, every day).[12][16]

Even if you haven't had bulimia for very long, it can cause problems. The stomach acid in your vomit can strip the enamel from your teeth, and you can get constipated if you use laxatives a lot.

Can I get better?

The good news is that bulimia can be treated, even if you've had it for a long time.[39] To get treatment, you'll need to talk to your doctor about the problem. That first step can be hard to take, but it is important to get help.

Start by making an appointment with your GP. It's fine to take a friend or relative along, or you can see your doctor in private if you prefer. If your GP can't treat you, he or she will refer you to a specialist. Below is a list of some important things to keep in mind.[40][41]

  • With treatment, many people get completely better.

  • Even if your bulimia doesn't disappear, getting treatment will give you a chance to get control of your symptoms. If you are bingeing and vomiting less, you'll feel better and less guilty.

  • Treatment can help you feel happier with your body instead of craving to be thinner.

  • No one will expect you to change overnight. Around half of all people treated for bulimia get completely better, but this can take a few years.

Researchers have looked at lots of studies on how well people recover from bulimia. Most of the research has looked at women. After five to 10 years they found the following.[40]

  • About 5 in 10 women in the studies had completely recovered from bulimia. They didn't have any symptoms at all.

  • About 3 in 10 women had some symptoms of bulimia from time to time. But the risk of getting symptoms seems to get smaller as time goes on.

  • About 2 in 10 women still had bulimia.

Last Updated: September 18, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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