Bulimia nervosa

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Definition

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and engaging in inappropriate ways of counteracting the bingeing (using laxatives, for example) in order to prevent weight gain. The word "bulimia" is the Latin form of the Greek word boulimia, which means "extreme hunger." A binge is consuming a larger amount of food within a limited period of time than most people would eat in similar circumstances. Most people with bulimia report feelings of loss of control associated with bingeing, and some have mildly dissociative experiences in the course of a binge, which means that they feel disconnected from themselves and from reality when they binge.

Binge—An excessive amount of food consumed in a short period of time. Usually, while a person binge eats, he or she feels disconnected from reality, and feels unable to stop. The bingeing may temporarily relieve depression or anxiety, but after the binge, the person usually feels guilty and depressed.

Body image—A term that refers to a person's inner picture of his or her outward appearance. It has two components: perceptions of the appearance of one's body, and emotional responses to those perceptions.

Comorbidity—Association or presence of two or more mental disorders in the same patient. A disorder that is said to have a high degree of comorbidity is likely to occur in patients diagnosed with other disorders that may share or reinforce some of its symptoms.

Cortisol—Asteroid hormone released by the cortex (outer portion) of the adrenal gland when a person is under stress.

Diuretic—A medication or substance given to increase the amount of urine excreted.

Dysthymic disorder—A mood disorder that is less severe than depression but usually more chronic.

Electrolytes—Substances or elements that dissociate into electrically charged particles (ions) when dissolved in the blood. The electrolytes in human blood include potassium, magnesium, and chloride.

Hypokalemia—Abnormally low levels of potassium in the blood. Hypokalemia is a potential medical emergency, as it can lead to disturbances in of the heart rhythm. Muscle cramps and pain are a common symptom of hypokalemia in bulimic patients.

Incisors—The four teeth in the front of each jaw in humans. The incisors of patients with bulimia frequently show signs of erosion from stomach acid.

Ipecac—The dried root of Caephalis ipecacuanha, a South American plant. Given in syrup form, ipecac is most commonly used to induce vomiting in cases of accidental poisoning.

Petechiae—Pinpoint-sized hemorrhages in the skin or a mucous membrane. In bulimia, petechiae may appear in the skin around the eyes as a result of increased pressure in the capillaries caused by vomiting.

Purging—Inappropriate actions taken to prevent weight gain, often after bingeing, including self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medications.

Serotonin—A widely distributed neurotransmitter that is found in blood platelets, the lining of the digestive tract, and the brain, and that works in combination with norepinephrine. It causes very powerful contractions of smooth muscle, and is associated with mood, attention, emotions, and sleep. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression.

The handbook for mental health professionals to aid in diagnosis is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM-IV-TR. This book categorizes bulimia nervosa as an eating disorder, along with anorexia nervosa.

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