Bulimia Nervosa in Children
What is bulimia nervosa in children?
Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder. It’s also called bulimia. A child with bulimia overeats or binges uncontrollably. This overeating may be followed by self-induced throwing up (purging).
A child who binges eats much larger amounts of food than would normally be eaten within a short period of time (often less than 2 hours). The binges happen at least twice a week for 3 months. They may happen as often as several times a day.
Bulimia has two types:
- Purging type. A child with this type regularly binges and then causes himself or herself to throw up. Or the child may misuse laxatives, diuretics, enemas, or other medicines that clear the bowels.
- Nonpurging type. Instead of purging after binging, a child with this type uses other inappropriate behaviors to control weight. He or she may fast or exercise too much.
What causes bulimia nervosa in a child?
Researchers don’t know what causes bulimia. Some things that may lead to it are:
- Cultural ideals and social attitudes about body appearance
- Self-evaluation based on body weight and shape
- Family problems
Which children are at risk for bulimia nervosa?
Most children with bulimia are girls in their teens. They tend to be from a high socioeconomic group. They may have other mental health problems, such as an anxiety or mood disorders.
Children with bulimia are more likely to come from families with a history of:
- Eating disorders
- Physical illness
- Other mental health problems, such as mood disorders or substance abuse
What are the symptoms of bulimia nervosa in a child?
Each child may have different symptoms. But the most common symptoms of bulimia are:
- Usually a normal or low body weight but sees him or herself as weighing too much
- Repeated episodes of binge eating, often in secret
- Fear of not being able to stop eating while bingeing
- Self-induced throwing up, often in secret
- Excessive exercise or fasting
- Strange eating habits or rituals
- Improper use of laxatives, diuretics, or other medicines to clear the bowels
- In girls, irregular periods, or no period at all
- Discouragement because he or she is not satisfied with his or her appearance
- Obsession with food, weight, and body shape
- Scarring on the back of the fingers from self-induced throwing up
- Overachieving behaviors
The symptoms of bulimia nervosa may look like other health problems. Make your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is bulimia nervosa diagnosed in a child?
Parents, teachers, and coaches may be able to spot a child with bulimia. But many children with it first keep their illness hidden. If you notice symptoms of bulimia in your child, you can help by seeking a diagnosis and treatment early. Early treatment can often prevent future problems.
A child psychiatrist or a mental health expert can diagnose bulimia. He or she will talk with you, your partner, and teachers about your child’s behavior. Your child may need psychological testing.