New Insights Into the Development and Treatment of Bulimia Nervosa in Women

Some of the most significant developments regarding eating disorders come from genetic research and the biological causes of eating disorders. What may be even more interesting is the potential familial connection in the development of eating disorders; for instance, while one family member may be diagnosed with bulimia nervosa, another may be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa or binge eating disorder. Research has also found it is fairly common for someone showing signs of bulimia nervosa to develop symptoms of anorexia in the future, or vice versa. This indicates people requiring bulimia nervosa treatment, or eating disorder treatment in general, may have genetic vulnerabilities for more than one type of eating disorder.

Signs and Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa

Clinical research studies investigating eating disorders have discovered adults with bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa may exhibit similar temperaments and personalities. For example, those individuals who seek anorexia or bulimia nervosa treatment may exhibit heightened states of anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, perfectionism or the tendency to be an “overachiever” in school or employment. Additional signs of bulimia nervosa in teens and young adults may include:

  • Binging and purging
  • Abusing laxatives, enemas, and diuretics to expedite weight loss
  • Constantly examining themselves in mirrors
  • Describing themselves with defeating language (i.e. fat or ugly)
  • Withdrawing quickly after meals with family (sneaking into bathrooms or outside)
  • Suffering a variety of health problems (i.e. heartburn, esophagitis, swollen salivary glands, dental problems, fainting)

Pre-adolescent children in the early stages of bulimia nervosa may learn these behaviors by interacting with others who have eating disorders, this could occur in person or via the internet, movies, etc. They may have friends who give them advice on how to satisfy the need to eat without gaining weight (i.e. purging). If your child or loved one is exhibiting these signs of an eating disorder, it may be important to research bulimia nervosa treatment and how it may benefit your loved one.

More About Bulimia Nervosa Causes

Although temperament may impact the risk of a child developing an eating disorder, bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa are far more complicated than simply having rigid personality traits. Neurologists researching eating disorders and substance abuse and addiction have found similarities between the two involving faulty reward-processing systems in the brain.

Learning from being “rewarded”, whether it is food or praise, is an evolutionary ability all mammals possess. This process seems to exert a powerful influence on behavior in people with an eating disorder. In neurological studies of women with and without anorexia nervosa, neurologists discovered that brain pathways associated with reward processing are much less active in women with anorexia nervosa (when stimulated by the food we crave – chocolate, for example) than in women without anorexia. In other words, women with an eating disorder have difficulty experiencing the reward process, while also being more punishment-sensitive than women without eating disorders.

Differences in Brain Architecture

Women exhibiting signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa may have an orbitofrontal cortex that is functionally and structurally different than women without bulimia nervosa. This region of the brain controls satiety signaling between the stomach and brain. Disrupted signaling regarding sensations of fullness plays a vital role in directing abnormal eating behaviors such as binging or even overeating with purging.

Hypersensitivity to food signals could also be a leading cause behind severe restriction of food in individuals needing anorexia or bulimia nervosa treatment. In response to starving themselves, a woman’s body systems slow down significantly. Heart rate decreases, amenorrhea occurs, thinking becomes “foggy” and metabolism eventually halts to an almost complete stop.

As psychiatrists and neurologists learn more about bulimia nervosa causes as well as the signs and symptoms of bulimia nervosa, they are able to enhance the evidence-based tools currently used in bulimia nervosa treatment.

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