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From the Department of Psychiaattempt (Mss. Jones and also Rushing and also Dr. Carney), and also the Department of Internal Medicine (Dr. Carney), University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City; and the Department of Epidemiology, University of Iowa College of Public Health, Iowa City (Ms. Jones and Dr. Carney)
Corresponding author and also reprints: Caroline P. Carney, M.D., M.Sc., Regenstrief Institute, Indiana College School of Medicine, 1050 Wisdifficult Blvd., RG6, Indianapolis, IN 46202-2872 (e-mail: gro.feirtsneger

Bulimia nervosa is a psychiatric problem that affects many type of adolescent and also young adult women. The disorder is defined by bingeing and also purging habits and have the right to lead to clinical complications. Thus, patients through bulimia nervosa frequently existing in the main care setting. Physical and laboratory examinations disclose markers of bulimia nervosa that are advantageous in making the diagnosis. Treatment is valuable, and also outcomes of early intervention are excellent. This short article discusses the background, presentation, and tools required for recognizing and also treating bulimia nervosa in main care.

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In the USA, eating disorders affect 5 to 10 million people, generally young women between the eras of 14 and also 40 years.1 Much attention has actually been passist to the identification and also therapy of anorexia nervosa in this age team.2,3 However, bulimia nervosa is a more common disorder that is more difficult to determine in the primary treatment setting. It is imperative that major treatment medical professionals are aware of the presentation and also subsequent interventions accessible to treat patients with bulimia nervosa, considering the reasonably silent presentation of the illness. In this article, we carry out a summary of bulimia nervosa, linked physical and laboratory examicountry findings, and diagnostic methods pertinent to major treatment practice.

Bulimia nervosa was defined as an ominous variant of anorexia nervosa by Rusoffer in 1979.4 However before, as even more research study has actually been conducted and even more patients experiencing from bulimia nervosa have been figured out, bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are now known as 2 distinctive syndromes. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV), bulimia nervosa is characterized by reexisting episodes of binge eating followed by 1 or more compensatory actions to eliminate the calories (vomiting, laxatives, fasting, and so on.) that take area on average a minimum of twice weekly for 3 or even more months.5 Patients who execute not fulfill the frequency or size criteria may be diagnosed through DSM-IV eating disorder not otherwise specified.5

Bulimia nervosa is likewise delineated into 2 distinctive subtypes: purging and also nonpurging. With the purging subform, patients interact in some strategy to rerelocate the binged food from their bodies. This is many frequently accomplished by self-induced vomiting however have the right to include the misuse of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics. Nonpurging bulimics use fasting or extreme exercise as the main compensation for binges but execute not frequently purge. Regardless of subform, bulimic patients have negative self-evaluations, placing incorrect prestige on weight and body image.


Whereas the pervasiveness of anorexia nervosa for woguys in the USA is 0.5% to 1%, the pervasiveness of bulimia nervosa is 2% to 3% and also deserve to be as high as 10% in breakable populaces, such as college-aged women.6 Males are affected by eating disorders at a price one tenth of that of females. Demographically, many patients via bulimia nervosa are single, college educated, and also in their mid-20s. However, a lot of patients begin suffering bulimic symptoms during adolescence.7Bulimia nervosa occurs in 2.3% of white womales however in only 0.40% of babsence woguys.8

Risk components for bulimia nervosa include, yet are not limited to, childhood sexual abusage, male homosexuality, eating alone, living in a sorority house, diabetic negative glycemic manage, low self-esteem, dieting, involvement in athletics, and also occupations that emphasis on weight.9–14 Patients via these danger determinants or in high-danger populaces and also those that the practitioner suspects may have an eating disorder have to undergo screening.


Many type of tools are accessible for screening in the primary care establishing, yet few devices focus on the diagnosis of bulimia nervosa. In the soul of the CAGE assessment for alcohol abuse,15 the SCOFF questionnaire screens for eating disorders using 5 simple, easy-to-remember inquiries.16An eating disorder deserve to be suspected via 84.6% sensitivity and also 89.6% specificity if a patient responds positively to 2 or more concerns.17 The negative predictive value is 99.3% for the SCOFF questionnaire, which makes this tool advantageous for screening in clinical exercise.

The SCOFF was freshly tested versus a new instrument, the Eating Disorder Display for Key Care.18 The last instrument percreated slightly much better than the SCOFF, with 1 or no abnormal responses judgment out an eating disorder (likelihood proportion [LR] = 0.0) compared through the SCOFF (LR = 0.25). Both were similarly reliable in ruling positive for an eating disorder (LR = 11).18

A 2-item assessment specific to bulimia nervosa might additionally be an efficient screening tool. For responders who answered positively to 1 of the 2 screening questions (Do you ever eat in secret? and Are you satisfied via your eating patterns?), the positive and negative predictive values were 22% and also 91% once based upon the gold-traditional of a clinical assessment that uncovered a 16% prevalence of bulimia nervosa in the stupassed away population.19 These 2 screening items had actually been previously presented to have actually a sensitivity of 1.00 and specificity of 0.90 for bulimia nervosa.20

The Bulimic Investigatory Test, Edinburgh (BITE) questionnaire is a brief test for the detection and description of bulimia nervosa.21 The BITE is composed of a set of 33 inquiries (30 yes/no kind and also 3 graded-response) that concurrently assess the visibility and family member severity of a binge-eating disorder. The BITE is separated into 2 sections: the symptom range and the severity scale. The symptom range consists of the 30 yes/no questions; 1 allude is assigned for eexceptionally “yes” answer, and also a score of 20 or higher suggests a binge-eating disorder. The 3 graded-response questions comprise the severity range and also ask the patient to score the frequency of their actions. A score of 5 or more on this area is considered clinically substantial, and a score of 10 or even more is thought about major. The BITE takes an average of 10 minutes to finish and also can be automatically scored by the practitioner. Although not intfinished for screening in major treatment, this instrument could be offered to track illness severity in patients through well-known condition.

The Eating Attitudes Test has actually been extensively provided in epidemiologic studies, especially to assess for symptoms of anorexia nervosa.22–25 The instrument has actually been validated for bulimia nervosa and also modified for usage in patients through diabetes mellitus.26–28 We recommend starting via the Eating Disorder Screen for Main Care or the SCOFF for screening objectives in main care.


The diagnosis and also permanent therapy of bulimia nervosa call for the practitioner to have understanding right into the patient"s thoughts concerning weight, food, and also eating rituals. The cardinal symptoms of bulimia nervosa encompass only inappropriate bingeing and also compensatory actions, not low body weight. It is possible for a patient to endure from bulimia nervosa and be at or above normal weight. For this factor, normal and overweight patients have to not be overlooked if various other symptoms or indicators of bulimia nervosa are current.

It is necessary to understand the patient"s eating behaviors, specifically those including binge eating. The bulimic"s principle of a binge might not be, and also most likely is not, the exact same as the physician"s idea of a binge. Although a binge is loosely characterized as a huge consumption of calories in a brief period of time, bulimics tend to specify binges by the type of food consumed and also their mood state while consuming, not necessarily by the actual caloric intake.29,30 For instance, snack foods items and desserts are perceived as binge foodstuffs more often than are other foods items. Some bulimics may have actually an interior list of forbidden foods that, as soon as consumed, will constitute a binge to that patient, regardless of caloric content. A bulimic could consume a huge quantity of fruits and also vegetables of the very same caloric amount as a candy bar yet not watch it as a binge because fruits and vegetables are “good” or “safe” foods items.

In any type of situation, a feeling of loss of manage over eating is a crucial function of bulimia nervosa. Subjective binges are characterized not by the amount of food consumed, however by an appraisal that more food was consumed than need to have been consumed and also a concomitant feeling of lack of manage.31,32 Additional, a typical behavior pattern may be detailed around the moment of the binge episode. The bulimic might suffer pre-episode boredom, cravings, and also depression followed by post-episode depression and also absence of self-regulate.33 Bulimics typically binge in exclusive, and some may plan binges and purges according to time of day and privacy concerns. They might eat normally roughly friends and also family members yet then binge at various other times once alone. In more serious instances, bulimics might change daily schedules to be assured of time for bingeing and also purging. They might also deprive themselves of food for hours prior to the binge, and also it is believed that this deprivation plays right into the ritualistic pattern of bulimic eating.34 Since constant binges might be costly, food might be stolen from grocery and convenience stores.35 The severity of weight and also eating attitudes may fuel the frequency of binge and also purge behaviors. It is these habits that may bring about significant medical and psychiatric complications.


Whereas amenorrhea is compelled for a DSM-IV classification of anorexia nervosa in woguys, only one fifty percent of patients through bulimia nervosa experience menstrual disturbances, including amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea.36 Menstrual disturbances emerging in women with eating disorders might be secondary to a decrease in the pulsatility of gonadotropin-releasing hormone and also possibly to the hormonal mechanisms of leptin, which decreases with decreasing weight.37,38 Because a thresorganize level of weight or body fat is thought to be crucial for normal reproductive functioning, normal or overweight bulimics are less most likely to suffer amenorrhea.39

Gastrointestinal (GI) tract abnormalities might happen in bulimics and also commonly are additional to purging behaviors. The the majority of frequently reported GI symptoms are bloating, flatulence, and constipation.40 Gastric emptying and also motility may be delayed.41 The patient also might develop gastroesophageal reflux illness and Mallory-Weiss tears from too much vomiting. Rectal prolapse has actually been defined, and when it occurs in a young woman, the clinician should incorporate bulimia nervosa in the differential diagnosis.42

Ipecac, an over-the-respond to emetic agent, is often provided by bulimics to induce vomiting. Nat an early stage 8% of womales via eating disorders might experiment via ipecac, while 1% to 2% consistently abuse the medication.43 Ipecac has been linked via major cardiac toxicity, including cardiomyopathy through left ventricular dysfunction. Whether or not this dysfeature is reversible continues to be controversial.44 Patients via a background of ipecac abusage may be candidates for echocardiography, especially if symptoms of heart failure are current.

Due to excessive vomiting, patients may exhilittle bit enamel erosion, specifically on the lingual surconfront of the teeth; calluses on middle phalanges from making use of fingers to induce vomiting (Russell"s sign); and also sialadenosis, a noninflammatory enlargement of the salivary glands.45,46 Parotid gland also swelling is frequently found. Sialadenosis is almost always associated via an underlying systemic disorder, including diabetes, alcoholism, malnutrition, anorexia nervosa, and also bulimia nervosa. In bulimics, the incidence of sialadenosis varieties from 10% to 66%. The clinician should suspect bulimia nervosa in a young woguy with sialadenosis that has actually no underlying clinical conditions.47,48 It is believed that the assorted reasons of sialadenosis all cause a common pathogenic impact in that they develop a peripheral autonomic neuropathy responsible for disordered metabolism and also secretion, leading to acinar enlargement.46,49 Although the condition might reverse when vomiting ceases, in situations of refractory swelling, parotidectomy may be thought about as a last resort to enhance facial aesthetics.46

Unlike patients with anorexia nervosa, bulimic patients primarily execute not have disturbances in bone mineral density, especially once weight-bearing exercise is offered as a compensatory device.50 Risk determinants for reduced bone mineral density encompass total duration of amenorrhea, age at initially menarche, time since last menstrual period, and low body weight.51 Therefore, early-oncollection osteopenia is not a significant worry for normal or overweight bulimic patients, unmuch less a history of anorexia nervosa with a duration of higher than 5 months invested below normal weight is also current.


The psychiatric comorbidity linked through bulimia nervosa is striking. Bulimic patients are characterized as extroverted perfectionists that are self-critical, impulsive, and also emotionally undercontrolled.52 High ubiquity rates of any type of affective disorder (75%), significant depressive disorder (63%), and also anxiety disorders (36%) have been reported.53The majority of patients report that the initial presentation of the depression or stress and anxiety disorder developed prior to the presentation of bulimic symptoms.53 Therefore, positive beforehand identification of an affective or anxiety disorder may provide an opportunity to proccasion breakthrough of eating symptoms and disorders, especially in high-risk populaces. Studies describing the incidence of comorbidities in bulimia nervosa may endure from sampling predisposition, referral prejudice, and also lack of appropriate regulate groups.

Substance abuse is an additional widespread comorbidity. The National Center on Addiction and also Substance Abusage at Columbia College reported that 30% to 70% of bulimics have a substance abusage difficulty.54 Substances of abuse incorporate tobacco, alcohol, and also prescription and also over-the-counter medicines, such as diet pills and also stimulants. Alcoholism has been reported to impact 31% of bulimics and is often found through significant depressive disorder and posttraumatic stress and anxiety disorder.55 Strong familial relationships have actually additionally been observed in between bulimia nervosa and alcoholism.56

A controlled area sample study compared woguys through bulimia nervosa through normal controls and controls through other psychiatric disorders. Although existing alcoholism was similar among the groups, bulimics had better prices of delibeprice self-harm than both control groups and more illicit drug usage than the normal controls.57

Self-injury is a concern for patients with bulimia nervosa. In one study, 34% of bulimic patients reported having injured themselves at at some point in their lives, and 21.3% reported having injured themselves in the last 5 months.58Patients a lot of often injure themselves by cutting or scratching their arms, hands, legs, or challenge, and many of these injuries result in bleeding and scarring. Patients with borderline personality disorder that injure themselves are even more most likely to additionally endure from bulimia nervosa than are those who perform not injure themselves. Comorbid diagnoses of bulimia nervosa and also borderline personality disorder have been presented to boost danger of constant self-mutilation, which may influence prices of attempted and completed self-destruction in these patients.59

Bulimic patients are more most likely to have experienced parental alcoholism, low parental call, and high parental expectations.60Although the core symptoms of this disorder are disturbed eating actions and self-perception, the substantial comorbidities complicate the identification and treatment of bulimia nervosa.


The normal-weight or overweight bulimic might or might not have substantial laboratory abnormalities. Laboratory abnormalities become even more common through decreasing weight and also increasing severity of purging habits. The electrolyte levels are the majority of likely to be influenced.

Hypokalemia, hypochloremia, hyperphosphatemia, and metabolic alkalosis are widespread, especially in lower-weight bulimics. The severity of hypokalemia and also hypochloremia is directly pertained to the number of purging episodes the patient experiences, particularly those entailing diuretics, laxatives, and also repetitive vomiting.61 A recent case-regulate study62 suggested that the ratio of urine sodium to urine chloride is the ideal predictor of bulimic behavior. A proportion of > 1.16 figured out virtually 52% of instances, and also the false-positive price was 5%.62 Furthermore, the presence of metabolic alkalosis and also elevated phosphorus levels must additionally raise clinical suspicion for surreptitious vomiting.63–65 Although serum potassium levels have been thought about an excellent marker for bulimic habits, the family member infrequency (4.1% to 13.7%) of clinically substantial hypokalemia among bulimics lowers its sensitivity as a screening test.61,62,64,66

Importantly, the patient"s in its entirety laboratory photo is dependent on the compensatory mechanisms. Patients who purge by vomiting might present through metabolic alkalosis (elevated serum bicarbonate levels) due to volume contractivity. However, patients who mainly abusage laxatives might current with metabolic acidosis (lessened serum bicarbonate levels) as a result of loss of alkaline fluid from the bowel.63 Patients making use of even more than one purging system may screen mixed acid-base findings. These electrolyte imbalances add to weakness, tiredness, and also, in significant instances, may predispose the patient to cardiac arrhythmias and also sudden fatality.

Serum amylase determination might help to diagnose and also monitor bulimia nervosa. An elevated amylase level might suggest that a patient has been vomiting. In some situations, it will be necessary to preeminence out an organic reason of elevated amylase levels or vomiting, such as pancreatitis. When fractionated into serum and also salidiffer components, elevations are generally disproportionate, with elevated salivary amylase exceeding pancreatic amylase in patients that have been vomiting. The fractionated test, therefore, might be useful to usage as a diagnostic aid in cases where vomiting is denied and also to monitor ongoing vomiting in patients undergoing therapy.67


Unlike anorexia nervosa, which is quickly discernible provided low body weight, the variance in weight presentation among bulimics renders this problem even more tough to diagnose. A baseline assessment for patients suspected of eating disorders includes a number of elements. Historical information, including prior episodes of electrolyte abnormalities, menstrual irregularities, or GI symptoms such as constipation, carry out essential clues if these are otherwise undefined.

Given time constraints in the primary care clinic, the clinician might pick to use either the 2-question assessment questioned previously or the Eating Disorder Display for Main Care.18 Negative scores on these instruments perform not rule out the possibility of an eating disorder, as patients who wish to save the problem secret might not answer the questions in a positive fashion. The physical examicountry may administer necessary ideas arguing the visibility of bulimia nervosa, specifically the purging subtype of the disorder. On examicountry, the clinician might look for indicators of the clinical complications mentioned previously, consisting of dental erosion, scarring or abrasion on the knuckles, and also swollen parotid glands.

Main treatment service providers must consider the use of laboratory tests in both the diagnostic and also follow-up evaluation. For underweight patients, patients in whom bulimia nervosa is suspected yet denied, and patients in whom physical symptoms and also signs are existing, laboratory tests might be beneficial to dominion out other disorders or to positively diagnose bulimia nervosa. Although no traditional panel of tests is explained, serum and also urine electrolyte counts, acid-base assessments, and also phosphorus levels need to be derived from the underweight patient at both diagnosis and follow-up. Fractionated amylase trial and error might be beneficial in evaluating for vomiting in patients suspected of having actually bulimia nervosa and also in patients undergoing treatment for the disorder. Electrocardiogram security must be perdeveloped in bulimic patients via electrolyte abnormalities, palpitations, chest pain, or low body weight. The bulimic patient via at least a 5-month background of low body weight or anorexia must have a bone thickness assessment. Other experimentation, such as upper or lower GI endoscopy, should be considered, depending on the constellation of symptoms and also indications. For instance, other problems that have the right to manifest with GI symptoms encompass inflammatory bowel diseases, celiac sprue, and also irritable bowel syndrome.


Many patients with bulimia nervosa perform not call for hospitalization, and also the desired technique of therapy is outpatient-based.68 Cognitive-behavior treatment (CBT) is the standard and also desired emotional method of treatment for these patients. In multiple researches, CBT has been demonstrated premium to other develops of mental therapy, such as interpersonal psychotreatment.59,69 This method of treatment for bulimia nervosa was initially defined by Fairburn in 1981 and has actually 2 goals: (1) to stop the vicious circle of overeating and vomiting and also (2) to modify the abnormal perspectives towards food.70 The CBT technique has actually 3 phases that overlap in a 20-week course of treatment.71 Throughout the initially phase, patients are taught around bulimia nervosa and also actions that perpetuate the disease. The patient keeps detailed food records, including the frequency of bingeing or purging, which are provided in treatment sessions. The second phase consists of teaching the patient to broaden food choices, and extra time is spent on correcting dysfunctional food and body thoughts. The final 3 treatment sessions make up the third stage and focus on maintenance and also relapse avoidance. Upon completion of CBT, 45% of patients quit bingeing and purging and 35% no much longer met diagnostic criteria for bulimia nervosa.71

Relapse primarily occurs in the time of the initially 4 months after CBT and affects 31% to 44% of patients.72 Relapse has actually been attributed to low inspiration during treatment and overly ritualized eating and high frequency of vomiting before therapy.72,73 Rapid and also sustained response to CBT has been discovered to be dependent upon frequency of bingeing prior to therapy and a self-directed personality.74

Pharmacologic treatment may be a major or adjunct treatment for bulimia nervosa. Fluoxetine has actually been displayed to be effective in the therapy of bulimia nervosa. One 16-week and also 2 double-blind 8-week clinical trials performed in the early on to mid-1990s all discovered fluoxetine, 60 mg/day, to substantially decrease overall binge eating and also vomiting.41–43,75–77 Fluoxetine likewise has been reported to substantially decrease vomiting and also binge eating in as bit as 4 weeks of therapy.78 Bulimic patients complied with for approximately 1 year on fluoxetine therapy were found to have actually a considerably reduced likelihood of relapse and boosted in its entirety outcome once compared via placebo.79 A instance series of 5 underweight patients via binge-eating and purging reported sertraline to be efficient in weight restoration and also reduction of core eating disorder habits.80 Although citalopram81 was effective in treating binge-eating disorder, no distinctions were detailed in between instances and controls for fluvoxamine.82 Milnacipran, an antidepressant via both serotonergic and noradrenergic function, was reliable for the reduction of bulimic symptoms in an uncontrolled case series.83 To day, fluoxetine remains the only medication apverified by the U.S. Food and also Drug Administration for the therapy of bulimia nervosa.

The combination of CBT through fluoxetine therapy has actually been displayed to be exceptional to medication or CBT alone.84 Frequency and severity of vomiting and also binge eating were decreased in patients on both therapies. Also, in a recent research, patients reported much better social adjustment up to 10 years after receiving CBT, fluoxetine, or both therapies for therapy of bulimia nervosa compared through that of womales that had been randomized to placebo.85 For bulimic patients who execute not respond to CBT, fluoxetine has been displayed to be effective in decreasing bulimic features.86 In light of this research, the existing therapy for bulimia nervosa is composed of outpatient-based CBT and fluoxetine treatment.

Typically, therapy of physical symptoms is dependent upon severity of the problem (e.g., hypokalemia) and whether or not reversal is supposed at cessation of purging habits (e.g., dysphagia).

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Key care physicians need to think about referring patients for specialty care in cases wbelow eating disorder symptoms are persistent, comorbid psychopathology is existing, or self-injurious habits or suicidal ideation is encountered. Specialty clinics directed at the care of patients through eating disorders may be many helpful.87,88

Key treatment doctors, patients, and also households might advantage from reading about eating disorders or researching area or college campus sources. The Amerideserve to Psychiatric Association issued exercise guidelines for the assessment and treatment of anorexia nervosa and also bulimia nervosa. These guidelines include a summary of the clinical qualities and also evidence-based treatments.1 Online resources are abundant, but among the a lot of detailed Web sites are http://www.mentalhealth and and,90 The previous gives web links to the Amerihave the right to Psychiatric Association and National Institute of Mental Health guidelines, as well as recent articles and also research advances. The last resource was developed in affiliation via the Clinical Evidence Program of the British Medical Journal. This website is designed for the lay public and also provides descriptions of the clinical features of and therapy choices for bulimia nervosa.