Medical complications and medical management of bulimia

Ann Intern Med. 1987 Jul;107(1):71-7. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-107-1-71.


The syndrome of bulimia is a common disorder and can be associated with serious psychological and physical morbidity. Unfortunately, many patients are reluctant to discuss their symptoms with their physicians and few clues can be found on physical examination to aid in the diagnosis. Possible physical signs include ulceration or scarring of the dorsum of the hand, salivary gland hypertrophy, and dental enamel erosion. In laboratory testing it is fairly common for patients with active bulimia to have fluid and electrolyte abnormalities, particularly hypokalemic alkalosis, and some also have elevated serum amylase levels. Rare complications include myopathies from misuse of ipecac, ruptured esophagus and pneumomediastinum associated with vomiting, and subtle abnormalities in neuroendocrine regulatory systems. Medical management including monitoring of fluid and electrolyte balance is essential during treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bulimia / complications*
  • Bulimia / therapy
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Endocrine System Diseases / etiology
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Humans
  • Mediastinal Emphysema / etiology
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Water-Electrolyte Imbalance / etiology