Are you one of those individuals who are weight conscious? Have you tried to do everything possible to avoid putting on extra pounds and look perfect? Or have you noticed anyone around you possessing anxious behaviour regarding dieting and weight loss?Since I am a doctor pursuing Psychiatry as a career, I am well aware of the majority of such mental health disorders, their symptoms, and their effects on an individual’s health. Let me tell you that Purging Disorder is a disorder of eating involving violent vomiting behaviour to lose weight or alter body shape as per your likeness. Purging does not only mean vomiting but also losing weight via excessive use of laxatives, too much exercise, and fasting.
Purging Disorder can enslave anyone regardless of age, race, sex, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. However, it is most commonly found in teenagers, especially females, who are highly cautious about their appearance and outlook.
Purging Disorder is a unique eating disorder that is not much studied or researched, but it does drastically affect a teenager. It is crucial to remember that Purging Disorder is one of the deadliest mental health conditions that can cause significant harm to your physical and psychological health.
Knowing the symptoms of this lethal Disorder is essential to develop appropriate solutions to help our teenagers combat it. Common symptoms include:
- Recurrent episodes of purging behaviours mentioned above
- Fear of gaining weight or excessive stress of putting on weight
- Low self-esteem due to body shape consciousness
- Emotional stress or depression
- Disruption of social life, work, and personal affairs
During one month of my internship at the Psychiatry Department of a tertiary care hospital, I came across many patients with Purging Disorders and figured out the drastic effects it has on a patient’s body. A few of them are mentioned below.
Hair & Face
Too much Purging can leave your body malnourished. My patients fail to understand that self-induced vomiting causes your body to lose essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to keep it going. As our body gets malnourished, it tries to retain its basic functions, such as organ functioning and muscle tissue. In doing so, the body primarily SNATCHES nutrients from other sources like hair. Hair contains a protein known as Keratin. Hair becomes dry, damaged, and frizzy, and we begin experiencing dramatic hair fall. Sometimes, hair growth ceases completely to keep our bodies alive.
Eyes are a gateway to your heart and soul. Purging Disorder puts pressure on the eyes, causing them to redden and become irritated. It can lead to damage to blood vessels in the eyes. It leads to the development of a red patch in the white of an eye. The eye sockets sink in, and dark circles may also appear. It gives your face an overall very unhealthy look.
Recurrent self-induced vomiting can destroy your teeth as stomach vomitus contains acid that erodes the enamel that coats your teeth. I generally notice my patients with Purging Disorder cannot properly smile because they are embarrassed to show off their teeth. When enamel wears off, a cavity appears in your teeth. If you don’t see a dentist soon, the cavity deepens, your tooth weakens, and it may even fall out. Going to a dentist to get your cavity filled is not the permanent solution to this problem. The underlying cause is your purging behaviour which needs to be controlled as it is the root cause of tooth decay.
Excessive Purging can also result in Gingivitis which causes the gums to become inflamed, red, and bleed when subjected to pressure. Swelling of the face, oral glands, and mouth sores due to exposure to stomach acid are commonly seen in individuals with Purging Disorder.
A lot of my patients complain of low sex drive, fatigue, and menstrual disturbances. As I take a detailed history of their presenting complaints, I reach the diagnosis of a Purging Disorder. Females may no longer be able to release eggs from the ovary, and males can have reduced sperm production leading to INFERTILITY!
A couple of months back, a 24 years female came to me with a complaint of severe depression. The reason she told me was her disturbed relationship with her husband due to her lack of interest in sexual intimacy. Eventually, she conceived but ended up having a miscarriage. Why? Because of her excessive purging behaviour! I diagnosed her as having Purging Disorder. Yes! That’s right. This Disorder causes not only miscarriages but also premature birth, breech delivery, congenital disabilities, a higher risk of C-section, and stillbirth.
After a woman gives birth, issues can arise with breastfeeding and weight gain, further exacerbating the purging behaviour. It becomes a vicious cycle that a patient is unable to break.
Circulatory Organs-Heart & Kidneys
Repetitive Purging can cause the body to lose water and electrolytes, and your body undergoes dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. This imbalance can strain your fragile heart, resulting in a heart attack or affecting your brain, causing a seizure. According to research, individuals with a Purging Disorder are five times more prone to have a heart attack and six times more likely to have a coronary artery disease than those without a disorder. Sinus tachycardia or irregular heartbeat is also caused by excessive Purging.
I remember being called to do the round in the cardiovascular ward. A consultant cardiologist complained of a patient with coronary artery disease fasting and not eating anything despite insisting so much. As I spoke to the patient, I figured she was incredibly body shape conscious and would get anxious even if she gained less than half a kg. She had a Purging Disorder for a good few years.
Kidney problems such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones, and kidney failure can result from prolonged fasting and dehydration.
Stress & Mood Disorder
Eating disorders usually co-exist with stress or other mood disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety, Depression, PTSD, Bipolar Personality Disorder etc. I have seen patients with Purging Disorder with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and weak personality. People know what they are doing is wrong and can harm them, but they continue to do so. They feel ashamed of themselves and come to visit me so that I can help them fight this problem as they feel like nobody understands them and even make fun of their compulsive behaviour.
Mood swings are quite common, and guilt often follows Purging. Stress is one of the few most common triggers of eating disorders and can exacerbate the need to purge. Sometimes patients are so depressed that they cause deliberate self-harm due to anxiety, irritability, isolation, and secrecy. Most teenagers I meet with Purging Disorder keep it a secret for fear of abandonment from family and friends. It plays a significant role in maintaining the eating disorder.
Crux of the matter
Always bear in mind that recovery is possible! Purging Disorder is an eating disorder, and an eating disorder is the second most fatal mental Disorder. There can be long-term health consequences on teenagers that can last for years after recovery. However, irreversible damage can be prevented if treatment is initiated within time.
If you know someone around you exhibiting signs and symptoms of an eating disorder or you are going through such a thing, please don’t hesitate to ask for help! It’s better to be safe than sorry! You can ring the National Eating Disorders Association helpline for guidance regarding resources, treatment options, therapy, counselling, and support. Remember that eating disorders are a serious mental health concern that requires immediate attention and treatment. Any delay can become a cause of regret for a lifetime. Hence, don’t hesitate to seek treatment and know you are not alone. Team YouthTableTalk is always happy to help!