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Do You or Someone You Know Have Body Dysmorphia?

By Fitoru | 18 July 2018
lady looking at mirror with body dysmorphia

Most people are familiar with anorexia and bulimia, which cause individuals to practice unhealthy behaviors surrounding weight and food. However, you might not have heard of another mental health condition that causes patients to obsess over their appearances.

Body dysmorphic disorder refers to a condition in which patients fixate on perceived flaws or defects. While the imperfection may be small or nonexistent in the eyes of others, it’s all the sufferer can think about, causing a great deal of pain and distress and interfering with one’s ability to enjoy life.

According to the International OCD Foundation, BDD affects up to 2.4% of people—that’s 1 in 50 individuals. If you or someone you love is suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, don’t hesitate to seek medical help.

Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphia symptoms vary based on the individual sufferer. However, most patients have a tendency to obsess over the way they look. It’s not uncommon for individuals with this disorder to spend a great deal of time looking in mirrors. They may also ask friends or relatives to reassure them about perceived flaws or seek out ways of correcting these imperfections. However, these actions are rarely successful in alleviating individuals’ distress.

Additionally, patients with BDD may:

  • Feel ugly, deformed, or overweight
  • Believe that others are mocking them for their appearance
  • Spend time trying to hide or correct flaws
  • Spend time comparing themselves to others
  • Pick at their skin or hair
  • Undergo cosmetic treatments or surgeries
  • Avoid social situations

While patients with anorexia and bulimia feel unnatural concern about their weight, those with body dysmorphic disorder may obsess over any perceived physical flaw. Some of the most common features for patients to focus on include:

  • Face
  • Nose
  • Skin condition (wrinkles, acne, or other blemishes)
  • Veins
  • Hair
  • Breasts

Regardless of the target of patients’ obsession, many experience anxiety, unwanted thoughts, compulsive behavior, and depression as a result.

Understanding What Causes BDD

Various factors can contribute to a patient developing body dysmorphic disorder. Because the condition tends to run in families, many doctors believe there’s a genetic component. Additionally, environment and culture play a part. Individuals who experience neglect or abuse as children are more likely to develop BDD later in life.

Other risk factors for body dysmorphia include being a perfectionist, undergoing social pressures related to beauty, and suffering from anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Left untreated, patients with body dysmorphic disorder are at an increased risk of various complications, including:

  • Severe depression and anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Health issues related to skin picking and other negative behaviors

With that in mind, individuals with BDD risk factors or those who think they might be suffering from the condition should not hesitate to seek help.

Treatments for Body Dysmorphic Disorder

The good news is that various treatments exist to help body dysmorphia patients improve quality of life. One of the most commonly prescribed treatments, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) aims to change destructive behaviors and patterns of thought with an eventual goal of altering patients’ feelings. If you’re suffering from BDD, your doctor may recommend CBT to help you assess your negative thoughts and consider how they create problems in your life. Additionally, you will likely work on challenging beliefs about body image and adopting more realistic ideas.

While the FDA has not approved any treatments specifically created for body dysmorphic disorder, many patients benefit from taking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs, which are also useful in treating depression, may help reduce obsessive thoughts and behaviors in patients with BDD.

Are You at Risk for BDD?

Wondering if you or someone you love may have this condition? The BDD Foundation offers a helpful questionnaire as a first line of assessment for sufferers. Additionally, people who think they might have body dysmorphia can ask themselves the following:

  • Is there a particular body issue about which you cannot be reassured?
  • Do you have obsessive habits about your physical appearance or grooming?
  • Do you tend to isolate yourself from social situations because you fear being judged?
  • Is your life suffering because of your negative self beliefs?

The truth is that most people can’t cure their BDD on their own, and attempts to correct perceived flaws are rarely successful. In fact, according to one study, 90% of body dysmorphics who underwent surgery were still dissatisfied with their appearances after the fact. Moreover, experts believe a full 15% of plastic surgery patients are likely suffering from BDD. Body dysmorphia is a serious disorder, and patients who are suffering should know that help exists.

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