An eating disorder, characterised by severe preoccupation about weight and body shape. Includes recurrent episodes of binge eating with compensatory mechanisms, such as self-induced vomiting, to prevent weight gain.
Most common in women in their 20s and 30s.
Patients usually appear physically normal, although they may have low self-esteem and depressive thoughts, as well as lack of confidence.
Parotid hypertrophy and erosion of the teeth are the most common physical signs and may prompt diagnosis.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is considered optimal primary treatment for bulimia, but it may not always be available.
Selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may be used adjunctively to CBT, or as an alternative when CBT is not available.
Treatment of comorbid psychiatric disorders, such as major depressive disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder, is necessary to optimise the chance of recovery from bulimia nervosa. SSRIs are effective in additional treatment of comorbid psychiatric disease.
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterised by recurrent episodes of binge eating, followed by behaviours aimed at compensating for the binge. Binge-eating episodes are characterised by eating an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat (e.g., at least twice the normal amount of food ingested) over a discrete period of time (it must be ingested more quickly than normally). Binges are accompanied by a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode. Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behaviours occur in order to prevent weight gain. These behaviours include self-induced vomiting; fasting; excessive exercise; and misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medication. Binge-eating episodes typically occur, on average, at least weekly for 3 months.
History and exam
- presence of risk factors
- recurrent episodes of binge eating
- recurrent inappropriate compensatory behaviour
- eating disturbance not exclusively during periods of anorexia nervosa
- depression and low self-esteem
- concern about weight and body shape
- dental erosion
- parotid hypertrophy
- Russell's sign
- female sex
- personality disorder
- body-image dissatisfaction
- history of sexual abuse
- family history of alcoholism
- family history of depression
- family history of eating disorder
- childhood overweight or obesity
- exposure to media pressure
- early onset of puberty
- family history of obesity
Co-Director of Stanford Eating and Weight Disorders Program
Stanford University School of Medicine
Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
DLS receives royalties from Guilford Press as a co-author on two books about evidence-based adaptations of dialectical behaviour therapy for binge eating/bulimia.
Dr Debra L. Safer would like to gratefully acknowledge Dr David C.W. Lau and Dr C. Laird Birmingham, the previous contributors to this topic. DCWL declares that he has no competing interests. CLB is an author of several references cited in this topic.
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