Bulimia is an eating disorder that significantly impacts mental and physical health. It can cause many short-term problems, but if left untreated, it can lead to more serious long-term effects. One of these possible long-term effects is the development of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
What Is GERD, and How Is It Related to Bulimia?
GERD is a digestive disorder that occurs when stomach acids flow back up into the esophagus, causing irritation and damage to the lining of the esophagus. Below are some of the symptoms of acid reflux in adults (1):
- Abdominal or chest pain
- Trouble swallowing
- A feeling of a lump in the throat
What is the relationship between GERD and bulimia, and can bulimia cause GERD? Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by episodes of binge eating followed by purging. Compensatory behaviors used to purge include self-induced vomiting, laxative use, fasting, or excessive exercise.
Self-induced vomiting is the connection between GERD and bulimia. This behavior causes damage to the esophagus in much the same way that esophageal reflux does. After a time, acid reflux becomes chronic as the muscles of the stomach and lining of the esophagus get worn out and worn down by repeated episodes of vomiting.
Long-term Health Risks Associated With Bulimia and GERD?
GERD can lead to complications such as esophageal strictures (narrowing of the esophagus), Barrett’s esophagus (a change in the lining of the esophagus), and possibly esophageal cancer. Ulcers and esophageal tears are also possible complications as stomach acids wear away the lining of the esophagus. An esophageal tear is a life-threatening condition.
If an individual suffering from bulimia uses self-induced vomiting to compensate for purging, they are putting themselves at risk for these severe complications. This uncomfortable, sometimes painful condition can negatively impact one’s health and quality of life in the long term (2).
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce the Risk of Developing GERD from Bulimia
If you have a diagnosis of bulimia, you need to be aware of the effects this disorder can have on your health and well-being. The only real way to lower your chances of developing GERD from bulimia is to stop self-induced vomiting. However, it’s important to be realistic and acknowledge that it is challenging to overcome an eating disorder.
Not everyone is in the same stage of their recovery from bulimia. If you’re still using the compensatory behavior of self-induced vomiting, you must treat your symptoms of acid reflux to prevent erosion of your esophageal lining. Still, this is just a small band-aid, and the real solution is getting treatment for your eating disorder immediately.
Ways to Treat GERD Caused by Bulimia
Symptoms of acid reflux in adults are very uncomfortable and even painful. The following are medical interventions used to lessen the severity of symptoms.
- Medications: Healthcare professionals commonly recommend antacids to treat GERD. They are available over-the-counter or by prescription if a stronger medication is needed. They either neutralize and decrease stomach acids or block stomach acid production.
- Surgery: In severe cases, and as a last resort, a surgical procedure can help the esophageal sphincter work better to stop the flow of stomach acid back up the esophagus.
Are There Any Natural Remedies That Can Help Treat GERD Caused by Bulimia?
There are natural ways to ease the symptoms of GERD that you can do at home. Here are some of the best practices:
- Avoid trigger foods. Certain foods, such as spicy, acidic, or fried, can cause acid reflux or worsen symptoms.
- Be mindful of your positioning. Sitting upright for at least an hour after meals will prevent stomach acids from rising up the esophagus.
- Manage your stress. Stress causes the body to release hormones that can trigger increased production of stomach acid (3).
Although there may be natural remedies for the symptoms of GERD, they do not replace treatment for an eating disorder. The most beneficial thing you can do for yourself and your well-being is to seek treatment from a healthcare professional.
At Toledo Center, our team can provide you with high-quality treatment for bulimia and other eating disorders. If you would like to learn what treatment options are available to help you begin your recovery, contact Toledo Center at 419-885-8800 to speak to a team member today.
- Mayo Clinic. (2023, January 4). Gastroesophageal reflux disease. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/GERD/symptoms-causes/syc-20361940
- The Bulimia Project. (2023, January 3). The relationship between bulimia, acid reflux and GERD. https://bulimia.com/bulimia-health-risks/acid-reflux/
- Cleveland Clinic. (2019, December 6). GERD (chronic acid reflux). https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17019-GERD-or-acid-reflux-or-heartburn-overview#management-and-treatment
Kate Delaney Chen, BSN, RN-BC is a healthcare writer and registered nurse with over 17 years of bedside experience. She specializes in Psychiatric Nursing and Nephrology and currently works at a nationally recognized Inpatient Eating Disorders Program.