Bulimia: From Syncope to Obsession

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The syndrome now known as bulimia is entirely different from the syndrome first described in its earliest use in the literature of classical Greece. Xenophon used the term bulimia in 399 B.C. to describe fainting in the cold with disturbed appetite. This use persisted across thousands of years of vivid debates in which bulimia was repeatedly differentiated from fames canina, an eating disorder characterized by excessive eating and vomiting. The centrality of syncope in bulimia disappeared during the 18th century, and the peripheral feature of hunger became the defining symptom. In very recent times, bulimia has been adopted as a formal name for a psychogenic eating disorder. The syndrome of syncope to which the diagnostic term bulimia was originally applied is identified as “hypoglycemia.”

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