Body dysmorphic disorder

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

January 24, 2019

Body dysmorphic disorder, or simply BDD, is a body-image disorder characterized by the preoccupied image of slight or defect in one’s appearance. Although, in reality, the defect may be a slight imperfection or non-existent at all.

For instance, you might have a slight problem with your appearance. Meaning to say, perhaps you don’t like some of your body parts, such as your curly hair, crooked nose, small eyes, or uneven smile. But though you may fret about these imperfections, they do not interfere with your daily lives. It is a contrast with people suffering from BDD.

People suffering from BDD perceived their own flaws for hours each day. They dislike any part of their body and they often find fault with their skin, nose, hair, chest, or stomach. The flaw for someone with BDD, is significant and prominent, which makes them upset. They cannot control these negative thoughts toward their imperfections that it causes severe emotional distress. Their thoughts even interfere with their daily functioning. They may miss work or school just to avoid the social situation and isolate themselves even from family and friends because they fear that others will notice their flaws.

According to the research made by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), BDD is most often develops in adolescents and teens ages 12 to 13, and it can affect both men and women. Statistically, it occurs in about 2.5% in males and 2.2% in females.


Causes of BDD

The cause/s of BDD is/are vague, but researchers are thinking that certain biological and environmental factors may contribute to its development, including genetic predisposition, neurobiological factors such as malfunctioning of serotonin in the brain, personality traits, and life experiences (e.g. sexual trauma, child maltreatment, and peer-abuse).

Likewise, body dysmorphic disorder may result from a combination of causes like brain differences, genes, and environment. Abnormalities in brain structure or neurochemistry may play a role in causing BDD, or genes might be the sole reason. Some studies claim that BDD is more common in people whose blood relatives have this condition as well.

If the above-mentioned causes are not the reason for BDD, perhaps the environment, life experience, and culture might contribute to the disorder, especially if involved in past negative social evaluations about body or self-image, or even childhood neglect or abuse.


Signs and Symptoms of BDD

Signs and symptoms that might observe are:

  • Being extremely preoccupied with a perceived flaw in appearance that to others appear minor or non-existent.
  • A strong belief of a defect that makes appearance ugly or deformed.
  • Believe that others negatively notice appearance.
  • Constantly comparing appearance with others.
  • Always seeking assurance of appearance from others.
  • Having perfectionist tendencies.
  • Seeking frequent cosmetic procedures with little satisfaction.
  • Avoiding social situations due to shame or embarrassment of appearance.
  • Being so preoccupied with the appearance that it causes major distress or problems in social life, school, work, or other areas of functioning.

The BDD sufferer may also be obsessed over one or more parts of his/her body in which this feature that he/she focus on may change over time. The most common features that people obsess about include face (such as the nose, complexion, acne, wrinkles, and other blemishes), hair (such as appearance, thinning, and baldness), skin and vein appearance, breast size, muscle size and tone, and genitalia.

Other Symptoms

Because patients are suffering from obsessions about their appearance, they may perform some type of compulsive or repetitive behavior to try to hide or improve their flaws. But these behaviors usually give temporary relief only. Here are a few examples:

  • Camouflaging with body position, clothing, makeup, hair, hats, etc.
  • Comparing body part to others’ appearance
  • Seeking surgery
  • Often checking appearance in a mirror
  • Avoiding mirrors
  • Skin picking
  • Excessive clothes-changing, grooming, and exercise


BDD and Other Mental Health Disorders

BDD patients also suffer from different anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder, as well as other disorders such as depression, eating disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

It can be misdiagnosed as one of these disorders because they share similar symptoms. For instance, it can be misdiagnosed with OCD or social anxiety disorder. But it can be distinguished from OCD when the repetitive obsessions or preoccupations focus mainly on appearance. Meanwhile, the avoidance of social situations in BDD may be due to the embarrassment of one’s physical appearance.



BDD may result in the following complications:

  • Health problems from behaviors
  • Major depression or other mood disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety disorders



Prevention for body dysmorphic disorder is still not discovered. However, because BDD often starts in the early teenage years, identifying it sooner and starting treatment may be of some benefit.

Long-term maintenance may also prevent a relapse of the symptoms of the disorder.


BDD Treatment

If you noticed someone too preoccupied with his/her appearance that it interferes with his/her concentration, or if behaviors listed above seem to appear, talk to a mental health professional.

Treatment is tailored to each patient. That is why it is important to talk with a doctor to determine the best individual approach. A trained doctor or mental health professional should diagnose BDD. They can get an accurate diagnosis and provide the appropriate treatment. Many doctors recommend using a combination of treatments for the best results.

An individual can take a self-test that can help suggest if BDD is present, however, it will not offer a definitive diagnosis.

There are available effective treatments that can help BDD sufferers to live full, productive lives.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches patients to recognize irrational thoughts and change negative thinking patterns. Through this treatment, the patients learn to identify unhealthy ways of thinking and behaving and replace them with positive ones.
  • Antidepressant medications including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help relieve the obsessive and compulsive symptoms of BDD.