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Body dysmorphic disorder: What It Is, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Are you preoccupied with a perceived flaw or defect in your physical appearance that appears minor or even invisible to others? Do you spend hours a day worrying about this flaw, trying to cover it up, or seeking reassurance from others? If so, you may be suffering from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a mental health condition characterized by a distorted body image and obsessive preoccupation with one’s appearance. In this article, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for BDD.

What is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition characterized by a distorted body image and obsessive preoccupation with one’s appearance. Individuals with BDD perceive their appearance as defective or flawed in some way, and the perceived flaw may be minor or even invisible to others. Despite this, individuals with BDD spend significant time and energy trying to conceal, improve, or fix their perceived flaw.

Causes of BDD

The exact causes of BDD are not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to the development of this condition. These include:

  • Genetics: BDD may run in families, suggesting a genetic component to the disorder.
  • Brain chemistry: Some studies have found that individuals with BDD may have abnormalities in brain regions involved in processing visual information and emotions.
  • Environment: Experiences such as teasing, bullying, or trauma related to appearance may increase the risk of developing BDD.

Symptoms of BDD

BDD is characterized by a preoccupation with one or more perceived flaws in one’s appearance. This preoccupation may be accompanied by compulsive behaviors, such as mirror checking, excessive grooming, skin picking, or seeking reassurance from others.

Common preoccupations

Individuals with BDD may be preoccupied with any aspect of their appearance, but some common preoccupations include:

  • Skin imperfections (e.g., acne, wrinkles, scars)
  • Hair (e.g., baldness, thickness, color)
  • Nose shape or size
  • Eye shape or size
  • Body weight or shape

Compulsive behaviors

In addition to preoccupation, individuals with BDD may engage in compulsive behaviors related to their appearance, such as:

  • Constant mirror checking or avoidance of mirrors
  • Excessive grooming or applying makeup
  • Skin picking or other repetitive behaviors
  • Seeking reassurance from others
  • Comparing one’s appearance to others

Diagnosis of BDD

Diagnosing BDD requires a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. The diagnostic process typically involves a clinical interview, where the mental health professional will ask about the individual’s symptoms, history, and family background. The mental health professional may also use standardized assessment tools, such as the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Examination (BDDE) or the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale Modified for Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD-YBOCS), to help diagnose BDD.

Treatment options for BDD

There are several treatment options available for individuals with BDD. The most effective treatments typically involve a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Medication

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed medication for BDD. SSRIs are a type of antidepressant that can help reduce obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors associated with BDD. Other medications, such as antipsychotics, may also be prescribed in some cases.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be an effective treatment for BDD. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used psychotherapy for BDD. CBT involves identifying and challenging negative thoughts and behaviors related to one’s appearance. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a type of CBT that involves gradually exposing the individual to situations that trigger their anxiety and helping them resist the urge to engage in compulsive behaviors.

Coping with BDD

In addition to seeking professional treatment, there are several strategies individuals with BDD can use to cope with their symptoms, such as:

  • Avoiding mirrors or limiting mirror use
  • Reducing time spent on grooming or applying makeup
  • Identifying and challenging negative thoughts related to appearance
  • Focusing on activities that don’t involve appearance or physical appearance
  • Seeking support from friends and family

Conclusion

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition characterized by a distorted body image and obsessive preoccupation with one’s appearance. BDD can significantly impair daily functioning and quality of life, but effective treatments are available, such as medication and psychotherapy. In addition to seeking professional treatment, individuals with BDD can also use coping strategies to manage their symptoms. If you or someone you know may be struggling with BDD, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional.

FAQs

How is BDD different from normal concerns about one’s appearance?

BDD is characterized by a preoccupation with a perceived flaw or defect in one’s appearance that is not noticeable or is only slightly noticeable to others. The preoccupation and associated behaviors can significantly impair daily functioning and quality of life.

Can BDD be cured?

While there is no cure for BDD, it is a treatable condition. Many individuals with BDD are able to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life with proper treatment.

Is BDD a type of OCD?

BDD shares many features with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), such as intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors. However, BDD is classified as a separate disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Is BDD common?

BDD is estimated to affect around 2% of the population. It can affect individuals of any age, gender, or ethnicity.

How can I help someone with BDD?

If you suspect someone you know may have BDD, it’s important to approach the topic with empathy and understanding. Encourage the individual to seek professional help and offer your support and encouragement throughout the treatment process.

Sources

  1. Phillips, K. A. (2018). Body dysmorphic disorder: Advances in research and clinical practice. Oxford University Press.
  2. National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Body dysmorphic disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/body-dysmorphic-disorder/index.shtml
  3. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596
  4. Feusner, J. D., Hembacher, E., & Phillips, K. A. (2010). The pathophysiology of body dysmorphic disorder. Body image, 7(1), 1-10.
  5. Veale, D., Anson, M., Miles, S., Pieta, M., Costa, A., & Ellison, N. (2014). Efficacy of cognitive behaviour therapy versus anxiety management for body dysmorphic disorder: A randomised controlled trial. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 83(6), 341-353.

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