PsychGuides independently researches, tests, and reviews products and services which may benefit our readers. Where indicated by "Medically Reviewed by", Healthcare professionals review articles for medical accuracy. If you buy something through our links, or engage with a provider, we may earn a commission.

woman with stomach painBulimia nervosa, more commonly known as bulimia, is an eating disorder that can damage a person’s health and relationships. A key behavioral feature of bulimia is what’s known as the binge-purge cycle.

Bulimia can have serious short- and long-term effects. If you suspect you or someone you know may have bulimia, speak to your healthcare provider to determine the best treatment options.

This article will cover:

What Is Bulimia?

Bulimia is an eating disorder that is characterized by periods of binging – or overeating – followed by purging, or measures to control or mitigate any weight gain. These measures often include forced vomiting, laxatives, diuretics, and/or exercise. A person with bulimia can be normal weight, but they fear gaining weight or want to lose weight. 6

Bulimia is commonly diagnosed in females, especially teenage girls and young women. 2 However, males are also affected, particularly those who are involved in sports or careers where body image is considered a crucial aspect of their success (diving, running, wrestling, ballet, and modeling). Males with bulimia are also more likely to have muscle dysmorphia, a type of body disorder that is commonly associated with eating disorders. 3

Bulimia can be categorized into two types. A person can demonstrate both or alternate between the two types over time.

Need Help With an Eating Disorder? Virtual Online Treatment is Here!

Insurance Options Available.

Find Out More

Signs and Symptoms

woman with bulimia vomiting in toiletAccording to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), bulimia nervosa is defined as recurrent episodes of binge eating, or overeating, followed by inappropriate or excessive behaviors to rid oneself of the caloric intake. Binging and purging behaviors must occur at least once a week for 3 months. 5

Bulimia symptoms can vary and include: 2, 6

If you’re worried that a loved one may have bulimia, below is a list of potential bulimia signs that you can look for. 2, 6

Don’t ignore these signs. If you believe you or someone you know is suffering from bulimia, call our helpline at  . Begin your journey to recovery now. An Eating Disorder Assessment is a good starting point.

What Causes Bulimia?

Eating disorders are complex, and there is usually more than one contributing factor. Varying degrees of genetic, familial, societal, and cultural issues can all lead someone to develop bulimia or other eating disorders. 2

Risk Factors

Those with bulimia often have other mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. 6

Substance use is also often associated with eating disorders, including bulimia. Some studies suggest that 50% of those with an eating disorder are also abusing drugs or alcohol. 8

Other risk factors include:

Short-Term and Long-Term Effects

blurry visionBulimia side effects can be both short- and long-term. Many of these side effects are reversible, however, with appropriate treatment and recovery.

Short-Term Effects

Long-Term Effects


Bulimia affects fertility and can increase the chances of pregnancy-related complications, including miscarriage and birth defects. For example, if a woman takes laxatives or diuretics while pregnant, vital nutrients needed for the growth of the baby can be lost and can contribute to congenital abnormalities and other fetal development issues.

A woman who has recovered from bulimia can become pregnant. However, talk to your healthcare provider if you are having difficulty conceiving. 6

If you or someone you know is ready to take the first step toward recovery from bulimia, call one of our treatment support specialists at  .

Depression and Bulimia

Several studies indicate that major depressive disorder is the most common comorbid diagnosis in individuals who suffer from an eating disorder. 10 One study found that those with bulimia were about 10 times more likely to report major depression. 11

Another study found that adolescents with bulimia also had high rates of suicidal ideation. Fifty-three percent had suicidal ideation, 26% had suicidal plans, and 35% had made suicidal attempts. 15

A healthcare provider can help identify any underlying mental illnesses, as well as assist with treatment planning to make sure that any plan covers all symptoms and causes.

Bulimia Facts and Statistics

The following are some facts and statistics about how many people are affected by bulimia and who is most affected.

Getting Help for Bulimia

If you or someone you know is suffering from bulimia, there is help. Please call us today at  . We’re available 24/7.

You’ll be connected to a 100% confidential and free helpline with trained, caring advisors who can help guide you to the best local treatment options for bulimia.

Read next: Where to Get Help for Bulimia


[1]. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). Bulimia.

[2]. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Bulimia.

[3]. National Institute of Health. (2016). Eating Disorders.

[4]. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). Anorexia.

[5]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).

[6]. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Bulimia nervosa fact sheet.

[7]. Hay, P. J., & Claudino, A. M. (2010). Bulimia nervosa. BMJ Clinical Evidence, 1009.

[8]. National Eating Disorders Association. Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders.

[9]. Fichter, M. M., & Quadflieg, N. (2004). Twelve-year course and outcome of bulimia nervosa. Psychological medicine 34(08): 1395-1406.

[10]. Kaye, W. H., Bulik, C. M., Plotnicov, K., Thornton, L., Devlin, B., Fichter, M. M., Treasure, J., Kaplan, A., Woodside, D. B., Johnson, C. L., Halmi, K., Brandt, H. A., Crawford, S., Mitchell, J. E., Strober, M., Berrettini, W. and Jones, I. (2008). The genetics of anorexia nervosa collaborative study: Methods and sample description. Int. J. Eat. Disord. 41: 289–300.

[11]. Hoste RR, Labuschagne Z, Le Grange D. Adolescent bulimia nervosa. Current psychiatry reports. 2012 Aug 1;14(4):391-7.

[12]. Hoek, H. W., & van Hoeken, D. (2003). Review of the prevalence and incidence of eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders 34(4): 383-396

[13]. Hudson, J. I., Hiripi, E., Pope, H. G., & Kessler, R. C. (2007). The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological psychiatry 61(3): 348-358.

[14]. National Eating Disorders Association. Bulimia Nervosa.

[15]. Lock, J. & La Via, M.C. (2015). Practice Parameter for The Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents with Eating Disorders. Journal of The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 54(5): 412-425.

[16]. Crow, S.J. et al. (2009). Increased mortality in bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 166(12):1342-1346.