The Physiology of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa

  • Jacalyn J. Robert-McCombEmail author
  • Kembra D. Albracht
  • Annette Gary


Eating disorders (ED) are psychological disorders that are characterized by abnormal eating, dysfunctional relationships with food, and a preoccupation with one’s weight and shape. The incidence of EDs in women ranges from 0.5 to 3 % with the incidence increasing from 1963 to 2013. Currently, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) recognizes two specific EDs: anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN), although there are subtypes associated with each. The DSM-IV-TR and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10) have different criteria for diagnosing AN and BN. Early identification of an ED is associated with shorter duration and fewer medical complications. Yet, it is estimated that only about 33 % of AN patients and 6 % of BN are receiving proper treatment for their illnesses. Gastrointestinal upset, fluid and electrolyte imbalances are common in AN in the short term and can eventually lead to long-term complications such as, pernicious anemia, osteoporosis, and heart disease. On the other hand, BN can cause short-term adverse effects like erosion of the teeth, enlargement of the parotid salivary glands, and acidic stomachs leading to heartburn. Long-term adverse effects caused by BN are gynecological problems, hormonal disturbances, hypercholesterolemia, and hypertension. Successful treatment of EDs should be managed with a team-based approach including the physician, psychologist, and registered dietitian.


Physiology of anorexia nervosa Physiology of bulimia nervosa Genetics 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacalyn J. Robert-McComb
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kembra D. Albracht
    • 1
  • Annette Gary
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Health, Exercise, and Sports SciencesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA
  2. 2.Starcare Specialty Health SystemLubbockUSA

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