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Top Labs To Run Bi-Annually On Your Patients Who Suffer From Bulimia Nervosa

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Top Labs To Run Bi-Annually On Your Patients Who Suffer From Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa is a condition that can be hard to pinpoint in others, as it is an eating disorder consisting of secrecy. Approximately 3% of American women will experience bulimia nervosa at some point in their lives. It's not just a disorder of eating but a dangerous disease that brings with it a multitude of medical complications ranging from electrolyte imbalance to cardiovascular issues.

In this article, we will discuss what bulimia nervosa is, its possible causes and risk factors, as well as symptoms to watch out for. We will also cover the top labs to order bi-annually for patients affected by this condition.


What is Bulimia Nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that poses significant risks to both mental and physical health. This condition involves a cycle of binge eating—consuming a large amount of food in a short time—followed by purging. Purging typically involves inducing vomiting or taking laxatives to rapidly eliminate the food from the body. However, some individuals may also resort to excessive exercise, fasting, or the misuse of diuretics and diet pills as alternate purging methods. 

Individuals with bulimia nervosa often maintain a normal or healthy weight, but their self-esteem is usually closely tied to their body image. Because of this, they tend to judge themselves very harshly based on their perceived body shape or weight. The disorder is not merely about food but is more intricately linked to issues of self-image and emotional health (2,3). 

Aside from the binge-purge cycles, other characteristics might include hiding food for future binge-purge episodes and misuse of medications like water pills. Despite the behavior usually being secretive, the impact on the individual’s health is far-reaching, including the risk of gastrointestinal issues, electrolyte imbalance, and dental problems, among other complications (2,3). 

What Causes Bulimia Nervosa?  

The cause of bulimia nervosa is complex and not yet fully understood. Research suggests that it likely arises from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. For instance, having a family member with an eating disorder can significantly increase the likelihood of developing one, pointing to a possible genetic link. Emotional health is another important contributing factor. Psychological conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders are often seen in individuals with bulimia, indicating a strong emotional component to the disease (2,3). 

Societal pressures also play a role. The media and popular culture often promote a specific body type as ideal, which can lead to poor body image and low self-esteem. These external factors can contribute to the onset of bulimia nervosa. Additionally, certain behaviors like extreme dieting can exacerbate the risk. Restrictive calorie intake between bingeing episodes can trigger further cycles of binge eating and purging. Stress, poor self-image, and even boredom can also act as triggers (2,3). 

Bulimia Nervosa Symptoms

Identifying bulimia nervosa can be challenging as those with the condition often go to great lengths to keep their bingeing and purging behaviors private. However, there are several warning signs to look out for (2,3):

Behavioral and emotional symptoms:

  • Frequent trips to the bathroom, especially after meals
  • Excessive exercising
  • Fixation on body image
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Mood disorders like depression and anxiety
  • A sense of loss of control, especially during binge episodes
  • Guilt or shame surrounding eating habits
  • Social withdrawal from friends and family

Physical symptoms:

  • Dental issues such as tooth enamel erosion and teeth appearing clear
  • Swollen cheeks or jawline
  • Gastrointestinal issues, including constipation and acid reflux
  • Scars, scrapes, or calluses on the knuckles from self-induced vomiting
  • Fainting spells
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dehydration

In addition to these symptoms, other signs may include:

  • Episodes of eating large quantities of food in one sitting, accompanied by a sense of loss of control
  • Engaging in purging behaviors like forced vomiting, excessive exercise, or use of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas
  • Fasting or restricting calorie intake between binge episodes
  • Excessive use of dietary supplements or herbal products for weight loss

The severity of bulimia nervosa is generally gauged by the frequency of purging episodes, typically categorized as at least once a week for a minimum of three months.

What Are The Benefits of Regular Lab Testing For Patients With Bulimia Nervosa?

Regular lab testing is an important aspect of managing and treating bulimia nervosa, primarily due to the risk of various medical complications associated with the disorder. One of the key concerns is the potential for electrolyte imbalance. Since purging behaviors such as vomiting and the use of laxatives can disrupt the balance of electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and calcium in the body, this can lead to severe health risks like abnormal heart rhythms or even heart failure. Lab tests that monitor these levels can offer early warning signs (2,3).

Gastrointestinal complications are another significant risk, including esophagitis, throat and stomach ulcers, as well as potential damage to the intestines. Routine lab tests can provide insights into markers of inflammation or other abnormalities in the digestive system that may need to be addressed. These tests can also help in assessing the effectiveness of ongoing treatments and making necessary adjustments in a timely manner (2,3).

Mental health is also a major concern in patients with bulimia nervosa, including an increased risk of suicide. Regular healthcare check-ups, of which lab tests are a part, ensure that patients are not only physically but also mentally evaluated. This allows healthcare providers to identify any symptoms early and adjust treatment plans accordingly, whether that means medication adjustments or the introduction of new therapies (2,3).

Top Labs To Run Bi-Annually On Patients With Bulimia Nervosa

Functional medicine labs offer a variety of tests that can help tailor treatment to patients, allowing providers to optimize management strategies.

Micronutrient Testing 

This test evaluates levels of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, providing insights into nutritional deficiencies. Given the potential for nutrient loss due to bingeing and purging behaviors in bulimia, this can be an effective way to identify what nutrients the patient may be lacking, thus allowing for a targeted nutritional approach.

Stress Testing

Stress and emotional health are significant factors in bulimia nervosa. This test measures the levels of cortisol and other stress hormones. High levels of stress may have the potential to exacerbate symptoms and trigger episodes of binge eating and purging. Monitoring stress hormone levels can help in customizing stress management therapies for the patient  (2,3).

Cardiovascular Testing

Bulimia nervosa can lead to electrolyte imbalances that pose severe risks to cardiovascular health, such as abnormal heart rhythms or even heart failure. The Cardio Check can provide important information on lipid profiles and other cardiovascular markers, allowing for early interventions (2,3).

Comprehensive Metabolic Panel 

This panel can give a broad overview of the patient's metabolic status. It is essential for monitoring the effects of bulimia on kidney and liver function, glucose levels, and electrolytes. 

Complete Blood Count

A CBC assesses the patient's overall health by examining various components of the blood, such as red and white blood cells and platelets. This is particularly useful for detecting underlying issues such as anemia, inflammation, or infection, which could be related to complications of bulimia, like esophagitis or gastrointestinal issues (2,3).

Additional Labs to Check  

While not a "lab" specifically, regular dental check-ups are vitally important for patients with bulimia nervosa. The disorder's repetitive cycle of bingeing and purging, particularly self-induced vomiting, exposes teeth to stomach acid that erodes enamel and leads to decay. Without regular dental care, patients run the risk of serious oral health complications, including cavities, gum disease, and even tooth loss. Additionally, depending on the patient's symptoms and profile, an Electrocardiogram (ECG) may be indicated to assess heart function, given the increased risk of cardiovascular complications associated with bulimia nervosa  (2,3).



In summary, bulimia nervosa is a complex and often covert condition that poses significant risks to both physical and mental well-being. The disorder not only impacts the patient's relationship with food but is intricately tied to emotional health and self-image. Given the high risk for a multitude of medical complications like electrolyte imbalances, cardiovascular issues, and gastrointestinal problems, early and ongoing intervention is vital. Understanding the condition's symptoms, causes, and triggers, along with the significance of bi-annual lab testing, is essential for effective diagnosis and management.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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Lab Tests in This Article

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  2. Professional, C. C. M. (n.d.). Bulimia Nervosa. Cleveland Clinic.
  3. Bulimia nervosa - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 10). Mayo Clinic.
  4. How to Alleviate Gastrointestinal (GI) Symptoms Naturally Without Medication. (2023). Rupa Health. Retrieved September 6, 2023, from
  5. What is Functional Dentistry. (2023). Rupa Health. Retrieved September 6, 2023, from
  6. Integrative Medicine Approaches to Managing Anxiety and Depression Naturally. (2023, August 24). Rupa Health.
  7. How to Treat Stress, Anxiety, and Depression in Women: A Functional Medicine Approach to Mental Health. (2023). Rupa Health. Retrieved September 6, 2023, from
  8. A Functional Medicine Constipation Protocol: Testing, Nutrition, and Supplements. (2023). Rupa Health. Retrieved September 6, 2023, from
  9. Top Labs To Run Bi-Annually On Your Irregular Menstrual Cycle Patients. (2023, August 11). Rupa Health.
  10. Inflammatory Markers 101: How To Interpret. (2023). Rupa Health. Retrieved September 6, 2023, from,must%20be%20valid%20and%20prognostic.
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