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What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental condition where a person can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived flaws in their appearance. They often believe that an inconspicuous or even non-existent physical attribute is a serious defect, and that they must do whatever they can to correct it. People who have BDD cannot control these thoughts, which can cause consistent emotional distress to the point of interfering with their daily lives.

What causes Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

We do not know the exact cause of BDD, but it usually starts in the teenage years when physical appearances become more of a concern. Body Dysmorphic Disorder can affect all genders, and is more prevalent than most people realize. The disorder currently affects about 2 to 3% of the population, making it more common than Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), schizophrenia, or anorexia.

What are the risk factors for Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Research suggests that there are a number of different risk factors that could mean someone is more likely to develop BDD:

  • Abuse or bullying
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of being alone
  • Perfectionism
  • Feeling competitive with others
  • Genetics
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

What are the signs and symptoms for Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Signs and symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder include:

  • Being extremely preoccupied with a perceived flaw in your appearance
  • A strong belief that you have a defect in your appearance that makes you ugly
  • Always asking other people whether you look “OK”
  • Believing that others are taking special notice of your appearance
  • Engaging in behaviors aimed at fixing or hiding the perceived flaw
  • Constantly comparing your appearance with others
  • Constantly checking yourself in a mirror or avoiding mirrors
  • Having cosmetic procedures and never being satisfied with the results
  • Missing work or school because you don’t want others to see you

How is Body Dysmorphic Disorder diagnosed?

A mental health professional will look for any of the following thoughts and symptoms:

  • You are abnormally concerned about a small or nonexistent body flaw.
  • Your thoughts about your perceived flaws are so severe that they interfere with your ability to live your life.
  • You do frequent, repetitive actions like grooming yourself or checking your appearance in a mirror.

How is Body Dysmorphic disorder treated?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder treatment often includes a combination of:

What can I do to prevent Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

You cannot prevent someone from getting Body Dysmorphic Disorder, but you can help keep it from getting worse. If someone you know has BDD you can:

  • Discuss realistic attitudes with them about body image, particularly in regard to what is exhibited on social media.
  • Encourage them to start treatment as soon as they show symptoms of having BDD.
  • Provide a supportive environment to help that person cope with their disorder.

Living with Body Dysmorphic Disorder

People with Body Dysmorphic Disorder may be reluctant to discuss their symptoms so they may not receive the diagnosis or treatment they need. Social isolation can result if the person becomes too self-conscious to go out in public. People with BDD are also at a higher risk of developing depression or suicidal behavior. Without treatment, Body Dysmorphic Disorder can get worse as people get older and experience the physical changes that come with aging.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting these symptoms it is important to know that you are not alone, that this is real, and that help is available.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

It is very important to take BDD seriously and to recognize that it’s a significant and sometimes life-threatening disorder. If you or someone you know is dealing with Body Dysmorphic Disorder please seek help from a professional as soon as possible.