Can Bulimia Lead to an Electrolyte Imbalance?

Can Bulimia Lead to an Electrolyte Imbalance?

According to The National Eating Disorders Association, an estimated 20 million American women and 10 million American men will suffer from some type of an eating disorder over the course of their lifetimes. These illnesses do not discriminate: they can develop in anyone regardless of their religion, age, race, weight, gender, sexual orientation, or body shape. One of the several types of eating disorders is bulimia nervosa.

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia is a severe issue that can even potentially pose a threat to someone’s life. It is characterized by a person engaging in a harmful cycle of binge eating and purging. In a binge eating episode, someone will feel out of control and consume a large amount of food over a relatively short period of time. And purging is a compensatory behavior that seeks to “undo” the effects of an eating binge, which may involve self-induced vomiting and/or misusing laxatives or enemas.

Health Risks of Bulimia

When someone is suffering from bulimia nervosa, they put their body through dangerous, recurring cycles of binge eating and purging that can have a profound effect on their entire digestive system; this can lead to chemical and electrolyte imbalances that damage major organ functions, including that of the heart. Issues such as electrolyte imbalances and cardiac arrest can lead to sudden death, pointing to the importance of seeking treatment for bulimia as early as possible.

Behavioral and Emotional Signs of Bulimia

There are various emotional signs and behaviors that could indicate someone is struggling with bulimia nervosa. These might include:

  • Evidence of binge eating, such as the presence of many wrappers/food containers or the disappearance of a significant amount of food over a short time period
  • Evidence of purging, such as frequent bathroom trips after eating, smells or other signs of vomiting, and the presence of laxative/diuretic packages or wrappers 
  • Discomfort eating in front of others
  • Food rituals, such as not allowing foods to touch or excessive chewing
  • Using lots of gum, mouthwash, and/or mints
  • Hiding the body by wearing baggy clothing
  • Has calluses on knuckles and the back of hands, which could suggest self-induced vomiting
  • Frequent dieting and other new food practices such as cutting out whole food groups, veganism, vegetarianism
  • Major mood swings
  • Appearing bloated (due to fluid retention)
  • Swollen jaw area and/or cheeks
  • Behaviors that generally suggest dieting, food control, and weight loss to be their main concerns
  • Hoarding food in strange places
  • Stealing food
  • Drinking an excessive amount of water or other beverages with no calories
  • Skipping meals or taking small portions of food during a meal
  • Stained or discolored teeth
  • Maintaining an intense, inflexible exercise regimen
  • Frequently looking in the mirror for perceived issues in their appearance
  • Has a major concern with their body shape and weight
  • Social withdrawal
  • Withdrawal from usual activities
  • Has secret, recurring binge eating episodes
  • Makes schedules or rituals to allow sessions of binge eating and purging

Getting Help

If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, you may wish to contact an eating disorder helpline. While eating disorders are serious illnesses that may even be fatal, help is available. If you find yourself in a crisis, you can text “NEDA” to 741-741 at any time to be put in touch with a properly trained individual. We are also here to help you here at Eating Disorder Recovery Specialists. You can reach us via phone (866-525-2766), email, or by filling out our contact form.

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