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Bulimia and Ipecac Abuse

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Syrup of ipecac, commonly referred to as Ipecac, is derived from the dried rhizome and roots of the ipecacuanha plant and is a well known emetic. It acts locally by irritating the gastric mucosa and centrally by stimulating the medullary chemoreceptor triggering zone to induce vomiting. 20-30 minutes after ingesting the syrup, ipecac will induce intense stomach-purging vomiting. It takes everything out, and for some bulimics, this dramatic effect has considerable attraction.

Ipecac has been used by individuals with bulimia nervosa as a means to achieve weight loss through vomiting. Repeated abuse is believed to cause damage to the heart, which can ultimately result in the user’s death. In the United States, Ipecac is not sold on store shelves and a prescription is required to purchase it in quantities greater than one fluid ounce. The real abuse statistics remain unknown, but it is estimated that about 10% of bulimics will experiment with ipecac, and will 1% will regularly abuse the drug.

Risks of Ipecac

Because it causes such intense vomiting, ipecac abusers suffer greater dehydration and electrolyte imbalances and a greater risk of kidney, liver and heart disease. The effects of the drug are frightening enough, but the syrup itself is arguably worse. Ipecac is toxic, meant only for one-time use in real emergencies. With regular use, the toxins in ipecac build in the muscles of the body, leading to muscle wasting. The heart, most dangerously, suffers this muscle wasting greatly, and in addition to worsened symptoms of fatigue and shortness of breath ipecac users also run a greatly increased risk of complete heart failure- Ipecac abuse is deadly.

Ipecac kills. Now rarely recommended for use even after accidental poisoning, regular abuse of the emetic syrup is exceedingly dangerous- 10% of bulimics have used it to purge, and some use it with regularity. Ipecac abuse can cause numerous medical complications, some of which are very severe and can ultimately prove fatal.

Complications May Include:

  • Blackouts
  • Dizziness
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Seizures
  • Hemorrhages
  • Respiratory failure
  • Shock
  • Heart damage
  • Liver and kidney disease
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Death


Treating Ipecac Bulimia and Ipecac Abuse

Successful treatment for Ipecac abuse is most often found in a residential eating disorder program where proper medical and psychiatric care can be provided. Any credible program will be licensed by the state in which it provides its services and the treatment staff will be properly credentialed and adequately trained in the management of all types of eating disorders.

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