How bulimia affects your knuckles

No items found.
No items found.

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is a serious eating disorder, in which people engage in eating binges, then use compensatory behaviors to attempt to rid the body of excess calories afterward. (1) During binge episodes, they lose control over the amount of food consumed and may consume thousands of calories within a relatively short period of time. Compensatory behaviors include vomiting, using diuretics or laxatives, fasting, or excessive exercising. 

Self-induced vomiting is the most common method of purging calories consumed during a binge. This behavior is damaging for overall health and can cause serious complications. Some are visible, such as calluses, abrasions, or scars on the backs of the hands or knuckles.  “Bulimia knuckles” are a result of repeated self-induced vomiting, and this is perhaps the most commonly-reported effect of bulimia on the skin and hands.

Last updated on 
In this article

How does bulimia affect your knuckles?

Self-induced vomiting with bulimia is known to have an effect on the hands, and more specifically, the knuckles. The act of placing the hands in the mouth to purge unwanted food after a binge leads to what is called the Russel sign, which is the appearance of calluses on the knuckles. (2) In some cases, individuals with bulimia may develop lacerations and lesions on the hands and knuckles. This occurs when the skin comes into contact with the teeth and scrapes the skin open when the hands are inserted into the mouth to induce vomiting.

Other effects of bulimia on the hands and skin

Often, the most obvious signs of bulimia appear on the knuckles, which become calloused due to repeated self-induced vomiting. Unfortunately, this is not the only negative effect of bulimia on the hands and skin. 

Sometimes, bulimia can harm the hands and skin because of medication side effects. In addition to vomiting after binges, people may take laxatives or diuretics, which can cause skin lesions, clubbed fingers, and hives, according to research. (2) Certain diuretics can also make people especially sensitive to sunlight, leading to the appearance of rashes.

How to treat bulimia knuckles and other skin problems

If you’re looking for solutions for bulimia knuckles or other skin problems, such as rashes or hives, there may be some short-term solutions that can provide you with relief and improve the appearance of the skin. For instance, if you’re experiencing itching from hives or other reactions to laxatives or diuretics, a calamine lotion may be helpful for calming the skin. There are also callus creams on the market that can reduce the appearance of bulimia knuckles. 

While there are skincare products that can treat bulimia, knuckles and other skin problems, these products only place a bandaid on the problem. A callus cream may make calluses smaller or less rough, but if someone continues to place the fingers in the mouth to induce vomiting, calluses will fail to heal. Similarly, ongoing abuse of laxatives or diuretics will cause unpleasant side effects like hives to reappear. 

Ultimately, the best solution for bulimia knuckles and related skin problems is to obtain treatment for the eating disorder. With effective, individualized treatment, those who suffer from bulimia address the underlying risk factors  and embark on a journey toward recovery, so they are able to stop engaging in disordered eating behaviors, like the vomiting and laxative abuse that led to the development of skin problems.

You might be interested in

Bulimia treatment

A comprehensive treatment program designed by a team of healthcare professionals that specializes in eating disorders is a lasting solution for bulimia knuckles and all other complications related to bulimia.  You may be worried about reaching out for help, but it is the first step toward healing your relationship with food and your body. 

Bulimia is associated with numerous health consequences, including digestive system issues, electrolyte imbalances, and heart problems, so treatment often begins with a medical evaluation. While in treatment, you will work with a team of professionals, including doctors, nutritionists, and therapists. You will receive medical care, as well as nutrition counseling, to help you develop healthier eating habits.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Resources

  1. Bulimia nervosa. (n.d.). National Eating Disorders Association. Retrieved February 7, 2022, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/bulimia
  2. Strumia, R. (2013). Eating disorders and the skin. Clinics in Dermatology, 31(1), 80-85. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clindermatol.2011.11.011
  3. Daluiski, A., Rahbar, B., & Meals, R.A. (1997). Russell's sign. Subtle hand changes in patients with bulimia nervosa. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, 343, 107-109. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9345215/
  4. Treatment for anorexia and bulimia. (2002). American Psychological Association. Retrieved February 7, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/eating-disorders/treatment

FAQs

Further reading

Thumbnail image of an article

Does bulimia cause hearing loss?

Most people are familiar with the digestive system complications bulimia...
Thumbnail image of an article

Why does bulimia cause broken blood vessels?

Attempts at vomiting put extra pressure on the blood vessels of the...
Thumbnail image of an article

What is bulimia bloat?

Bulimia bloat refers to the distended belly that commonly occurs in people who...
Thumbnail image of an article

Which digestive problems does bulimia cause?

‍Bulimia nervosa (BN) affects as many as 300 women per 100,000 women between the...
Thumbnail image of an article

Why does bulimia shaking occur?

Shaking, or trembling, can sometimes occur after purging in individuals with...
Thumbnail image of an article

Can stomach ulcers develop from bulimia?

The connection between bulimia and stomach ulcers is due to stomach...
Thumbnail image of an article

Bulimia nervosa and thyroid issues

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder characterized by binging and...
Thumbnail image of an article

What is sialadentis, or bulimia cheeks?

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is one of the most widely-recognized eating disorders impacting...
Thumbnail image of an article

How bulimia can (permanently) affect your teeth

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is a serious psychiatric disorder that involves frequent...
Thumbnail image of an article

What are the complications of bulimia?

Bulimia nervosa (BN) can be a particularly difficult disorder to endure, both...
Thumbnail image of an article

What are bulimia teeth?

When someone purges, which happens frequently when someone has bulimia nervosa...
Thumbnail image of an article

The relationship between bulimia, skin, and acne

The dehydration and malnutrition that can occur in those with bulimia nervosa can do...
Thumbnail image of an article

Is there a relationship between bulimia, acid reflux, and GERD?

Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are medical conditions that...
Thumbnail image of an article

Is hair loss a symptom of bulimia nervosa?

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder that can lead to many medical comp...
Thumbnail image of an article

How does bulimia affect the jaw?

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder that affects many parts of the body, incl...
Thumbnail image of an article

How bulimia affects your period

Bulimia nervosa (BN) may cause changes in your menstrual cycle, or period. It has...
Thumbnail image of an article

How bulimia affects the upper GI and respiratory tract

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is an eating disorder that involves frequent purging...
Thumbnail image of an article

How bulimia affects your knuckles

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is a serious eating disorder, in which people engage in eating...
Thumbnail image of an article

Help for bleeding caused by bulimia

Bulimia nervosa (BN) is a serious eating disorder that can have numerous medical...
Thumbnail image of an article

Can bulimia cause cancer?

Some diseases are more likely to lead to cancer than others. For example, alcoholism...
Thumbnail image of an article

What is Russell’s sign?

Although bulimia nervosa (BN) is an insidious disease, usually characterized by...
Thumbnail image of an article

Bulimia nervosa headaches

It’s common for individuals with bulimia nervosa (BN) to experience headaches. One...