Monday, May 18, 2009


woman purging vomiting ipecac

The late Karen Carpenter was an Ipecac abuser. She used it extensively to induce vomiting, and it was a primary factor in her death. The alkaloid emetine from the Ipecac syrup had caused severe damage to her heart, which eventually caused Karen to go into cardiac arrest, resulting in her death.

Karen Carpenter People Magazine Karen Carpenter

Ipecac is made from the dried root of a plant called ipecacuanha, which is grown in Brazil. Syrup of ipecac is made from the dried roots and underground stems of the plant, and when ipecac is swallowed, a substance in it called cephaeline irritates the stomach and causes vomiting.

Syrup of Ipecac

Syrup of Ipecac

Ipecac is toxic. It is intended to facilitate vomiting in an individual who has ingested poison or overdosed on medication. Ipecac is for a single use only and is never to be used on a regular basis.

Many bulimics use syrup of ipecac in order to purge the contents of their stomach after an eating binge. Bulimics often use it if they have difficulty inducing vomiting. Chronic abuse of ipecac occurs when their gag reflex becomes damaged, which makes self-induced vomiting difficult.

Repeated use of ipecac can cause very serious medical conditions:

Muscle weakness and wasting. The toxins in ipecac build in the muscles of the body, leading to muscle wasting. The heart, most dangerously, suffers this muscle wasting (which is irreversible), increasing the risk of complete heart failure

Fatigue and shortness of breath (common to most bulimics)

Tachycardia (an abnormal, and potentially dangerous, rapid heart rate)

Cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle can no longer pump sufficient blood. Ipecac-induced cardiomyopathy is a factor in many bulimia nervosa fatalities

Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances/abnormalities

Risk of kidney, liver and heart disease

Cardiac arrest

Cardiac arrhythmias





High blood pressure

Respiratory complications

Tears in the esophagus or stomach lining and vomiting blood


Below is the case of a 17-year-old girl who died from ipecac abuse:

"PEDIATRICS Vol. 78 No. 3 September 1986, pp. 412-416

Death Due to Chronic Syrup of Ipecac Use in a Patient With Bulimia

Russell J. Schiff MD1, Carol L. Wurzel MD1, Sandra C. Brunson MD1, Ilene Kasloff MD1, Michael P. Nussbaum MD1, and Shawn D. Frank MSW1

1 From the Schneider Children's Hospital, Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, New York

A 17-year-old girl presented with malaise, weakness, palpitations, dysphagia, myalgias, and weight loss of 1 month's duration. Within 24 hours of admission to the hospital, she had hypotension unresponsive to medical management, intractable congestive heart failure, and arrhythmias; she died. Several empty bottles of syrup of ipecac were later found among her belongings. Syrup of ipecac is commonly used to induce emesis in patients who had ingested toxic substances. The chief pharmacologic property of this agent is due to its alkaloid component, emetine. There have been many previous reports of death due to emetine poisoning in patients receiving ipecac fluid extract and in those treated for amoebic dysentery. However, the literature cites only three case reports of fatalities secondary to chronic ipecac use as a means of losing weight. This is the first report of a death due to chronic ipecac use in an adolescent patient with bulimia. Emetine persists in the body for long periods, and in patients who have ingested it chronically, emitine is extremely toxic, specifically to cardiac smooth and skeletal muscles. With an increased awareness of the importance of weight control in the adolescent age group, the physician must carefully evaluate these patients for the use of emetics.

Key Words: syrup of ipecac • emetine • bulimia • cardiomyopathy • adolescent

Submitted on July 23, 1985
Accepted on December 31, 1985"

Karen Carpenter's mausoleum

Karen Carpenter's Mausoleum

To read more about Karen Carpenter, please click here:

Remember...Ipecac kills.

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Kaede Liddell said...


I'am Kaede, and I'am bulimic and self-injury.

I have read for a long time your blog
I Like it!
All It's very interesting ^^

IPECAC, I have never used it
I have read of the serious damage.

Sorry for my bad English

Oh, I'am mexican and I'am 17 years old


Medusa said...


Thank you so much for writing. Lovely to hear from you.

Sending hugs and healing thoughts your way.


MrsMenopausal said...

Great post, Medusa.
I remember when it was recommended that parents have a bottle on hand at home. Not any longer. The FDA is considering making syrup of ipecac available only by prescription here in the US. There are several reasons for this, among them the abuse of it's use in connection with eating disorders and the heart damage/failure it causes by that use.

Medusa said...

MrsMenopausal, I remember the little bottle of Syrup of Ipecac my mom had in our bathroom medicine cabinet when I was growing up...just in case one of us kids swallowed something poisonous.

I'm hoping the FDA makes it available by prescription only. That would go a long way in abating its misuse and saving the lives of those who consistently use it to purge.

acidburn666 said...

i'm so glad that I read this... I was unfortunately thinking of using Ipecac but would now never touch it... thank you...

Medusa said...


You're so welcome. I'm glad you read this post, too.



Sarah said...

The last two nights, I have used ipecac, the first time i've ever used it. But I realized that the dangers far outweigh any benefits of using it, and have since thrown the bottle away.

Thanks for the info :)

Medusa said...

Sarah, I'm SO glad your threw that bottle away.


Ludivine said...

I'm glad I've always hated - even been disgusted by - puking. I know a bulimic who does every day and I wonder how she can endure it. I already knew about the risks of purging. I also knew some people take emetic syrup (I read it in Marya Hornbacher's book Wasted). I did not know it was lethal though. Thanks for informing people around.
Your blog is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I am a 44 yr old woman that has Icapec induced cardiomyopathy from bulimia...I became anorexic at 12 yrs old and discovered bulimia at 15 yrs old and thought I was set free. I was an on and off bulimic until I was 36 yrs old. After a lifetime of insanity I stopped but my heart was damaged and my life changed forever. And even if you don't use Icapec to vomit and use other are in danger of developing cardiomyopathy as well. I encourage you to google it and see for yourself before it becomes to late. Bulimia is a disease just like alcoholism. And must be addressed as such by family and friends. As I now fight daily from the effects of the disease that has stolen my life from me...I encourage you to do the same before it's too late. We are to young to die...

Anonymous said...

I have been tempted to buy Ipecac to induce vomiting as I am bulimic. However after reading your article, I no longer want to. Thank you!!

Medusa said...

You're welcome, Anonymous. Ipecac is deadly.

All the best,

Anonymous said...

How common is it to die from Ipecac misuse? How long or how much must one take it for before they die from it?