Gastrointestinal symptoms and disorders in patients with eating disorders

Clin J Gastroenterol. 2015 Oct;8(5):255-63. doi: 10.1007/s12328-015-0611-x. Epub 2015 Oct 26.


The two most clinically serious eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. A drive for thinness and fear of fatness lead patients with anorexia nervosa either to restrict their food intake or binge-eat then purge (through self-induced vomiting and/or laxative abuse) to reduce their body weight to much less than the normal range. A drive for thinness leads patients with bulimia nervosa to binge-eat then purge but fail to reduce their body weight. Patients with eating disorders present with various gastrointestinal disturbances such as postprandial fullness, abdominal distention, abdominal pain, gastric distension, and early satiety, with altered esophageal motility sometimes seen in patients with anorexia nervosa. Other common conditions noted in patients with eating disorders are postprandial distress syndrome, superior mesenteric artery syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and functional constipation. Binge eating may cause acute gastric dilatation and gastric perforation, while self-induced vomiting can lead to dental caries, salivary gland enlargement, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and electrolyte imbalance. Laxative abuse can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. Vomiting and/or laxative abuse can cause hypokalemia, which carries a risk of fatal arrhythmia. Careful assessment and intensive treatment of patients with eating disorders is needed because gastrointestinal symptoms/disorders can progress to a critical condition.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa; Bulimia nervosa; Eating disorder; Gastrointestinal disorder; Gastrointestinal symptom.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Constipation / etiology
  • Dyspepsia / etiology
  • Esophageal Diseases / etiology
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / complications*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Motility
  • Humans
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome / etiology
  • Liver Diseases / etiology
  • Rectal Prolapse / etiology
  • Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome / etiology