Bulimia nervosa is a serious disorder with a number of long-term side effects. Regular self-induced vomiting is likely to result in tooth decay as well as damage to the esophagus and stomach ulcers. Laxative use may cause long-term bowel and gastrointestinal damage. Most severely, long-term bulimia may result in heart damage and irregularities.
Phases of over excessive eating, called binging, followed by phases of purging that include self-induced vomiting, consumption of laxatives, prolonged fasting or excessive exercise are characteristic of bulimia. The disorder occurs most often in women in late adolescence or early adulthood. Individuals suffering from bulimia often have poor body image and self-esteem and are obsessed with their weight. It is not uncommon, however, for an individual suffering from bulimia to be of average weight or even overweight, despite their habits.
One side effect of long-term bulimia is tooth decay. Repetitive, self-induced vomiting can expose the teeth to too much stomach acid, which can wear down the enamel of the teeth, making them more susceptible to cavities and tooth decay. Teeth may also become very sensitive to hot or cold sensations.
Gastrointestinal problems are another side effect of long-term bulimia. Vomiting can cause damage to the esophagus and throat, as stomach acid can wear away the lining of these organs. Bulimia can also result in stomach ulcers.
The constant use of laxatives to encourage purging also has side effects. Some individuals may become reliant on laxatives to complete regular bowel movements. Excessive use of laxatives may also result in long-term bowel movement problems, or permanent colon damage. In severe cases, surgery may be needed to restore normal bowel function.
The overuse of laxatives can also cause irregular levels of electrolytes in the body, especially potassium. Low levels of potassium can have a number of dangerous side effects, including weakness and mental confusion. It can also effect the functioning of the heart, causing heart palpitations or even heart failure. Consistently low levels of potassium may even result in kidney failure.
Heart damage may also result from long-term bulimia. Not only can low potassium levels cause heart palpitations, lowered magnesium levels, which can also result from regular purging, can as well. Dehydration caused by regular purging can also negatively affect the heart. It is common for individuals suffering from bulimia to consume ipecac, a drug that induces vomiting, to aid in purging. Too much ipecac over an extended period can result in tachycardia, an abnormal rapid heartbeat, and can affect the heart’s ability to pump sufficient blood.