Long-Term Effects of Purging: Potential Damage to Organs and Body Systems

Long-Term Effects of Purging: Potential Damage to Organs and Body Systems

Illustrated, light blue silhouettes of a man and woman standing next to each other. Their internal organs are also silhouetted in dark blue.

Purging is hard on the body, which can lead to both short-term and long-term health issues. We will walk you through the potential complications of this type of eating disorder.

Purging Defined

The term “purging” is used to describe any behaviors used to compensate for something that the person with the eating disorder ate. This includes, but is not limited to, intentional vomiting, laxative use, diuretic use, or excessive exercise. The purging behaviors are used to alter their size or appearance and may occur in someone with anorexia or bulimia

Effects of Bulimia on Different Body Systems

Purging is a very serious and risky disordered eating behavior that can have life-threatening consequences. Below, we will look at how purging affects different systems of the body. 

Cardiac– Purging can lead to low potassium levels. Potassium is an electrolyte that helps control the electric impulses of the heart. Vomiting, laxative use, and diuretics can lead to low potassium levels, which can cause irregular heart rhythms and can even cause the heart to stop altogether.1 

Kidneys– The use of laxatives and diuretics can result in inflammation of the kidneys and kidney damage.1 

Gastrointestinal– Purging can affect someone’s GI system differently depending on how they purge. Vomiting can result in issues with reflux and heartburn. It can also lead to spasms of the esophagus or make it difficult for the lower esophagus to relax.1 People with bulimia are also at higher risk for rupturing their esophagus.2

A person who struggles with intentional vomiting is also at higher risk for Barrett’s esophagus. This means that the cells in their esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth and your stomach) become damaged, raising your risk for esophageal cancer. 

Those who use laxatives regularly may have difficulty having bowel movements without the use of laxatives. They may become dependent on laxatives for the rest of their life in order to pass stool through their body.1 

Purging can impact a person’s ability to digest and absorb the nutrients in food normally. This can often be improved when a person recovers from their eating disorder. 

Other Side Effects of Purging

Purging can affect every system in your body. This means that it can cause a wide variety of symptoms. Some additional symptoms and side effects include the following:1

  • Tooth erosion
  • Swollen cheeks from enlarged salivary glands
  • Bleeding eyes
  • Chronic diarrhea 
  • Inability to have a bowel movement without using laxatives
  • Bloody stool

If you are experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, it is important to see a healthcare provider immediately. 

Your Road to Recovery

The side effects of purging are serious, so don’t wait to seek treatment. At Shoreline, we offer two residential treatment centers that provide a comfortable, home-like environment while still maintaining close medical supervision. Our compassionate team at Shoreline would be happy to answer any questions you have about your path to recovery. Give us a call at 562-434-6007 or complete our contact form.



  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4803618/ 
  2. https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-015-0044-4