How Does Bulimia Affect the Esophagus?

How Does Bulimia Affect the Esophagus?

The National Eating Disorders Association estimates that about 20 million women and 10 million men will experience some type of an eating disorder over the course of their lives here in America. These are illnesses that do not discriminate, and can affect anyone regardless of their religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, race, weight, and body shape. One type of eating disorder is known as bulimia nervosa.

What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia is a severe eating disorder that can potentially be a threat to someone’s life. This illness is characterized by individuals engaging in a dangerous cycle of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors also referred to as purging. Binge eating involves eating a large amount of food over a relatively short period of time while feeling a loss of control; purging refers to compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting and misusing laxatives or enemas in an effort to “undo” the effects of an eating binge.

Bulimia and the Esophagus

One of the many body parts that may be damaged by bulimia nervosa is the esophagus, which is a muscular tube connecting the stomach and the mouth. According to Eating Disorder Hope, bulimia nervosa can lead to bleeding esophageal varices, a condition in which swollen veins located in the lower esophagus rupture and bleed as a result of being exposed to excessive pressure. Bulimia can cause this because induced vomiting as well as the resulting masses of food being forced back up the esophagus can place a high amount of pressure on the veins in the lower esophagus. Furthermore, these veins are at a higher risk of rupture because they are thinner than the other veins found in the human body.

Esophageal Varices Signs and Symptoms

Someone may be experiencing esophageal varices if they experience the following:

  • Black stool
  • Bloody stool
  • Hematemesis, or blood in the vomit
  • Lightheadedness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shock or faintness (from blood loss)

What to Do Next

If you or a loved one is experiencing these symptoms, you should call 911 immediately and head to the nearest emergency room, as esophageal varices are a medical emergency. When presented with a case of esophageal varices, doctors generally combine different treatments and medications in order to halt the bleeding. However, someone suffering from bulimia can be at risk of repeated esophageal varices if they do not give their body enough time to heal or the varices are not treated in the proper way.

Getting Help

The best way to effectively treat esophageal varices, though, would be to deal with the underlying cause, which would be bulimia nervosa in this case. 

If you or someone you love is experiencing an eating disorder, you may wish to contact an eating disorder helpline. And while eating disorders are indeed severe illnesses, they are also, thankfully, treatable. 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. Additionally, we can 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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