Medical Encyclopedia


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Binge eating

Contents of this page:

Alternative Names   

Eating - binge

Definition    Return to top

Binge eating is a disorder in which people eat more than they need to satisfy their hunger.

Considerations    Return to top

The eating disorder bulimia is most common among female adolescents and young adults. People with bulimia typically eat large amounts of high-calorie foods, usually in secret. After this binge eating they often force themselves to vomit. They have feelings of guilt or depression.

Complications from long-term bulimia include:

Constipation and hemorrhoids are also common in people with bulimia.

Although death from bulimia is rare, the disorder can last for years. It can be as severe as, or more severe than anorexia nervosa.

Causes    Return to top

The cause is unknown. However, binge eating often begins during or after strict dieting. It may be caused by the stress of not eating enough food.

Home Care    Return to top

Take steps to reduce your stress and improve your overall health.

Medication is usually not needed for this disorder. However, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants.

Supportive care and counseling are recommended. Individual, group, family, and behavioral therapy may help.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if you think you might have bulimia.

What to Expect at Your Office Visit    Return to top

The health care provider will perform a physical examination. The doctor may ask one or more of your family members for a history of your eating patterns if you do not acknowledge that you are binge eating.

The health care provider may ask the following medical history questions:

Possible diagnostic tests include blood studies, such as electrolyte levels.


Behavior is usually controlled with:

References    Return to top

Schmidt U, Lee S, Beecham J, et al. A randomized controlled trial of family therapy and cognitive behavior therapy guided self-care for adolescents with bulimia nervosa and related disorders. Am J Psychiatry. 2007;164:591-598.

Update Date: 1/15/2009

Updated by: Benjamin W. Van Voorhees, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, and Psychiatry, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL. Review provided by Verimed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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