Esophageal Varices and Bulimia

Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC Special Projects Coordinator at Eating Disorder Hope

Bulimia nervosa is a severe psychiatric illness that results in dangerous medical complications. The repeated and reoccurring action of self-induced vomiting after episodes of binging can be extremely hard on the body.

Many side effects can result from binging and purging, including heart irregularities, electrolyte imbalances, dental disorders, dehydration, and more. Another dangerous side effect that can result from bulimia nervosa includes esophageal vertices.

Understanding the Digestive System

In order to understand the severity of this condition, it is helpful to understand a broader view of the digestive system. The esophagus is the muscular tube that connects the mouth with the stomach. Bleeding esophageal varices can occur when swollen veins in the lower esophagus rupture and bleed due to excessive pressure.

Increased pressure may be placed on the veins in the lower esophagus when vomiting is induced and due to a large bulk of food that is being forced back up through the esophagus. Because the veins of the esophagus are thinner than veins in the rest of the body, they are more prone to rupturing, as they cannot handle higher pressure. This is when bleeding will occur.

Signs and Symptoms of Esophageal Varices

Signs and Symptoms of Esophageal Varices may include the following:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Bloody stools
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hematemesis (blood in vomit)
  • Shock or faintness due to blood loss
  • Black stools

Get Emergency Help Immediately for These Symptoms

Sad depressed woman sitting outdoorsIf you or someone you care for has suffered with esophageal varices as a result of purging from bulimia nervosa, it is crucial to call 9-1-1 immediately and go to your nearest hospital emergency room. Esophageal varices are not something to take lightly and should be treated as a medical emergency.

Doctors will typically use a combination of medications and treatments to control and stop the bleeding. A person with bulimia can be at risk for reoccurring bleeding if varices are not treated correctly or if the body is not allowed the necessary time to heal.

The most important way to treat esophageal varices is to correct the underlying cause, which in this case would be bulimia. Seeking professional help for bulimia will allow a person to heal medically, psychologically, emotionally and physically. Early treatment and intervention can prevent further complications of this fatal disorder.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How can esophageal varices further complicate bulimia nervosa?

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 11th, 2015
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