Purging Disorder

Purging disorder is a newly recognized disorder in which people of normal or below average weight purge after eating, often by vomiting. Other purging methods include the use of laxatives to speed the passage of food through the digestive system so less of it is absorbed by the body and the use of diuretics to rid the body of water weight. It differs from bulimia nervosa because with bulimia, people binge before purging. People with purging eating disorder do not binge. People with bulimia may also fast and/or exercise excessively to compensate for the large amounts of food that they eat, and people with purging eating disorder don’t do that. According to Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc., purging eating disorder may be more common than anorexia and bulimia combined.


What are the signs that someone has purging disorder?

Some of the signs include going to the bathroom all the time after eating (to throw up), regular use of laxatives (if that is one of their purging methods), and obsessing about weight and appearance. Other indicators are signs of throwing up a lot, such as swollen cheeks, broken blood vessels in the eyes, teeth that look clear (from the acid content in vomit), and scrapes or calluses on their knuckles (if using their fingers to induce vomiting, if that is one of their purging methods).

What are the medical risks of purging disorder?

The medical risks vary slightly according to the purging methods used, and some are more serious than others. They include:

  • Dehydration
  • Anemia
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Irregular heart beat (arrhythmia)
  • Weakened heart muscle, leading to possible heart failure in severe cases
  • Possible kidney infection or damage
  • Intestinal problems, such as diarrhea and constipation
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Sores in the mouth
  • Damage to the esophagus (if vomiting is one of the purging methods used)
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes, that may interfere with vision
  • Overall muscle weakness, lethargy, and fatigue

Purging eating disorder also leads to anxiety and depression. Of course, anxiety and depression can lead to purging eating disorder, so it works both ways. People with the disorder can become clinically depressed and even suicidal.

What causes purging eating disorder?
Purging Disorder
As with all eating disorders, no one is really sure what causes it. Eating disorders may be caused by stress and anxiety. They may be a way to cope with feelings of being out of control; eating is something a person can have control over. The problem is, the eating begins to control the person.

Some believe eating disorders are caused by our culture, with the emphasis on being thin and attractive. They point to the media and the images of skinny models. They point to the impossibly thin Barbie dolls women grow up playing with.

Others believe eating disorders are caused by childhood abuse. There does seems to be a correlation between the two, but certainly not all children who are abused develop eating disorders and not all people who develop eating disorders were abused as children. Again, no one knows for sure why some people develop eating disorders and others don’t.

Causes of eating disorders can include genetic predisposition, peer pressure, parents who diet often, abuse, addiction, etc. Learn more.

How is purging disorder treated?

Since purging disorder is a newly recognized disorder, a specific treatment protocol has not yet been developed. It is not certain if the same treatment that is used for bulimic people will be effective for people with purging eating disorder. Right now the best recommended treatment is for a physician to manage any medical problems resulting from the disorder, a dietician to help with a healthy eating plan and nutrition education, and a counselor to teach healthy coping skills.

For more information on treating this eating disorder, click here. For a list of eating disorder treatment centers that you can call and speak with an intake counselor, follow this link.

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