Do you ever binge on ridiculous amounts of food in one sitting, then feel like your stomach will burst? Do you worry about a fatal stomach rupture?

How many times have you eaten so much in a very short amount of time that, upon lying down immediately afterward, you feel as though your stomach is slowly being stretched thinner and thinner — on the verge of even rupturing?

This is just a feeling, and even though it feels terrible, it does not mean your stomach is close to rupturing.

A typical food binge will at some point cause too much discomfort to continue eating — and food intake then ceases.

But what about people whose eating DID cause a stomach rupture?

It’s believed that one in 5,000 obese U.S. people have Prader-Willi syndrome.

The hypothalamus in the brain regulates hunger. It tells you when your stomach is beginning to get full with food.

You begin feeling this sensation of fullness as you continue eating. At some point, eating becomes undesirable and you leave the table.

Imagine, however, the hunger that a starving child in a developing country feels day in and day out.

This kind of hunger makes these kids, and adults, rummage through garbage cans for food.

They’ll eat anything, including rotting fish washed ashore from the banks of a filthy river.

Well, this is the kind of hunger that a victim of Prader-Willi syndrome feels, because the mechanism in the hypothalamus that controls hunger doesn’t work.

So no matter how much food they consume, they always feel starved and famished, as though they haven’t eaten for days.

This feeling is continuous, no matter how much they eat, which is why they are capable of eating themselves to death. They live in a state of never-ending starvation mode.

“Rupture of the stomach purely due to overeating is very rare,” says Dr. David Beatty, MD, a retired general practitioner with 30+ years of experience and an instructor of general medicine for 20 years.

“People with Prader-Willi syndrome (a rare genetic disorder) have an abnormal craving for food and are more susceptible to stomach rupture.

“Someone with an eating disorder such as bulimia can also be at risk.

“The stomach usually holds 1-1.5 liters of contents. It can usually manage up to three liters without any serious problem.

“Most cases of stomach rupture occur when there are more than five liters of contents in the stomach.

“Think of the stomach as a small balloon or perhaps the rubber bladder of a small soccer ball.

“As it’s inflated the wall becomes stretched and then overstretched. Eventually the wall can’t take the pressure within and it tears.

“If the stomach ruptures, the food, liquid, gas and acid empty out of the stomach into the abdominal cavity.

“The acid has a corrosive action on the other organs and structures.

“If blood vessels are affected bleeding can occur.

“Contents of the stomach are not sterile, so infection, abscesses and sepsis can set in.

“This is a serious problem which generally requires surgery. It can be fatal even with the best management.”

Cupboards and Refrigerator Must Be Locked

To prevent a person with Prader-Willi syndrome from eating themselves to a fatal stomach rupture, access to food must be prevented.

You may be wondering why someone with PWS just doesn’t learn to put up with the hunger.

But the hunger in PWS is unlike the hunger that normal people experience.

If you ask a person with PWS what their hunger feels like, their description won’t help us understand too much, because they have never experienced satiation—except when they were too young to remember, as the raging hunger usually kicks in between ages two and five years.

Those with PWS have been known to break into cars and steal food on the car seats. They have been known to eat out of garbage cans, eat dog food, cardboard, paper – anything to fill up the stomach.

Some will even consume whole bottles of vegetable oil, sacks of flour, raw meat and other foods in unprepared form.

The people you see on “My 600 Pound Life” do NOT have Prader-Willi syndrome.

Years of massive binge eating have stretched out the capacity of their stomachs.

And despite the quantities of food intake, it’d be extremely unlikely that any such individuals could suffer from a ruptured stomach strictly from the eating.

Dr. Beatty has worked in primary medicine, surgery, accident and emergency, OBGYN, pediatrics and chronic disease management. He is the Doctor of Medicine for Strong Home Gym.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.  
Top image: Shutterstock/Ken Tannenbaum