Physical Problems Related to Binge Eating

A Summary of the Physical Problems Related to Binge Eating, Vomiting and Purgative Abuse

Electrolyte Disturbances

  • Low levels of potassium, chloride and sodium (these are salts that are in the body in large quantities and are important for overall functioning of most organs including the heart, brain, kidneys etc. Purging through vomiting, laxative use or dieting, frequently leads to reduced levels of all these electrolytes).
  • May cause weakness, tiredness, muscle pain, depression
  • May result in cardiac arrhythmias
  • Can cause sudden death

Heart Problems

  • Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
  • Heart failure

Neurological (brain) problems

  • Abnormal electrical discharges in the brain resembling epileptic seizures
  • Brain shrinkage

Swollen or infected parotid glands

Broken blood vessels under eyes

Dental deterioration

  • Due to gastric acid in mouth after vomiting
  • Loss of enamel
  • Decay

Gastrointestinal disturbances

  • Stomach pain
  • Ruptures of stomach and oesophagus
  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Constipation/loss of bowel function, through using laxatives
  • Irritable bowel syndrome


  • Intense thirst
  • Decreased urinary output
  • Swelling
  • Puffiness


  • An excess of fluid causing swelling
  • Puffiness
  • Excessive urinary output
  • Weight gain (through fluid retention)

Loss of skin elasticity

  • Due to rapid changes in weight
  • Stretch marks
  • Wrinkles

Finger clubbing/swelling

Menstruation and sexuality

  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Infertility
  • Unwanted pregnancies can result when oral contraceptives are not absorbed, due to vomiting or diarrhoea, or when women are not aware when they are ovulating because of irregular or absent periods

Bulik, C., Sullivan, P., Carter, F., Joyce, P., & McIntosh, V. (1993). Cognitive Therapy Therapist Manual for the treatment of Bulimia Nervosa. University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

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