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Extreme Symptoms of Fatal Bulimia

author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as "Healthy Aging," "CitySmart," "IAmThatGirl" and "ULM." She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit—a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.
Extreme Symptoms of Fatal Bulimia
Dehydration from diuretic-abuse may cause life-threatening complications of bulimia. Photo Credit Comstock Images/Stockbyte/Getty Images


Bulimia is a serious illness that involves cycles of binging (consuming excessive amounts of food) and purging ("getting rid of" food, through self-induced vomiting or other means). Symptoms of bulimia often go unnoticed, because people with the disorder hide their behaviors and usually maintain average body weight. If left untreated, bulimia can result in death. For best results, seek medical guidance if you or a loved one exhibits signs of bulimia.

Nausea or Stomach Cramps

Electrolytes, such as sodium, calcium and potassium, are important minerals in the body that have an electric charge. Excessive fluid loss, caused by vomiting, laxative abuse or diuretics (water pills), can cause electrolyte imbalances in people with bulimia. According to the National Mental Health Information Center (NMHIC), these imbalances may result in death. Nausea and stomach cramps are common symptoms of electrolyte imbalance. In most severe cases, nausea indicates heart failure--another potential cause of death associated with bulimia. Unfortunately, people with bulimia frequently experience both nausea and stomach cramps throughout the course of their illness as side effects of behaviors such as laxative abuse and binging. If nausea or stomach cramps occur suddenly, persist or worsen, medical attention should be sought.

Extreme Thirst

Severe dehydration can also cause chemical imbalances and potentially result in death. According to the Mayo Clinic, extreme thirst is a common symptom of life-threatening dehydration. Lesser thirst may indicate mild dehydration. As the condition worsens, thirst becomes urgent and continually increases. A person who is experiencing severe dehydration may complain of a "cotton feeling" in her mouth.

Dizziness or Mental Confusion

Dizziness and mental confusion are additional symptoms of severe dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. This may result from laxative or diuretic abuse, vomiting or as a result of excessive exercise, because electrolytes are lost through sweat. People with bulimia who partake in all these behaviors simultaneously or regularly are at heightened risk for life-threatening electrolyte imbalance and dehydration. When severe dizziness or mental confusion set in, a person may feel unable to stand or balance properly. He may have difficulty speaking clearly or understanding others' questions or comments.

Rapid Heartbeat and Shortness of Breath

Rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath (dyspnea) are signs of heart failure. According to the NMHIC, heart failure is a potential consequence of chemical imbalances caused by bulimia. These symptoms can occur suddenly and by the time they arise, a person's life is at risk. People with long-term or severe bulimia are most prone to heart failure and resultant death.

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