Body Dysmorphic Disorder–What Is It?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is classified as a mental illness. It is characterized by a person thinking about personal flaws to the point that he or she cannot control the negative thoughts, leading to decreased quality of life.

This disorder is showing an increase in prevalence, affecting one in 50 people. However, it is often misdiagnosed because it shares multiple symptoms that are common in other disorders.

One reason it is difficult to identify Body Dysmorphic Disorder is because individuals may be tempted to think negative feelings about themselves is normal. While it is normal to dislike certain features about yourself, people with body dysmorphic disorder allow it to interfere with their lives. Due to overwhelming anxiety about a flaw, real or imaginary, a person may miss out on social events, school or work. If you believe you, or someone you love, may suffer from this disorder, read the following information and then consult a professional for treatment.

What are the characteristics of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)?

The most noticeable characteristics of BDD is the persistent fixation on a physical flaw that is either imaginary or so small that it is nearly imperceptible to anyone else. The fixation can occur on any part of the body, though the stomach, skin, chest, nose or hair are the most common choices. For someone who has BDD, this small flaw causes severe anxiety and emotional distress.

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Most often BDD onset occurs in the teenage or early adolescent years. Surprisingly enough, men and women are affected almost equally with this disorder. A report by the American Psychiatric Association reported in 2013 that in the United States, the occurrence of BDD in females was 2.2 percent and for males it was 2.5 percent.

What are the symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

The most obvious symptoms of someone with BDD is fixation on an appearance that is obsessive and lasts hours or an entire day. If you have Body Dysmorphic Disorder you may find yourself feeling powerless to focus on anything else. Another indicator of BDD is performing a certain type of compulsive behavior in relation to the characteristic. Some common repetitive or compulsive behaviors are:

  • Skin picking.
  • Avoiding or continually checking mirrors.
  • Seeking repeated cosmetic surgeries.
  • Attempting to camouflage your imperfection through excessive makeup, body positioning, or clothing.
  • Excessive grooming or clothing changes.

You may also find that someone suffering from BDD also has other subtle anxiety disorders. Other disorders that may develop with BDD are social anxiety disorder, eating disorders, depression, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

What are the causes of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

There is no clear indication as to what triggers the onset of BDD. However, certain environmental and biological factors are suggested to contribute to the development. Some of the most common proposed factors are:

  • Genetic predisposition.
  • Neurobiological factors.
  • Life experiences.
  • Personality Traits.

Genes are composed of many different traits, and the genes your parents and grandparents have, good or bad, can be found in you. There may be certain diseases or disorders that you are predisposed to develop much easier because of your family history. Certain studies indicate that if you have blood relatives who have either BDD or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, that you may be at an increased risk for it too.

Neurobiological factors refer to possibly hormonal imbalances in the brain. Hormones are a crucial part to how your body signals and functions. If a single hormone is found lacking or in excess, it can have disastrous results to your physical and mental state. It could be the case that there is a hormonal imbalance leading to the onset of BDD, however more research needs to be conducted to form concrete conclusions about that.

Life experiences shape who you are and how you view the world. There is a hypothesis suggesting that certain traumatic life experiences can lead to increase onset risk for BDD. Some common situations that may increase the chance of BDD are maltreatment as a child, peer abuse or sexual trauma.  Personality traits may be a factor into developing BDD. There are a few studies that suggest schizoid, obsessive, or narcissistic attitudes are most often found in conjunction with individuals who have BDD.

How to Treat Body Dysmorphic Disorder

If you are concerned that you may have BDD, the first thing to do is to get an accurate diagnosis from a professional. In many cases you may have a concerning fixation on a certain part of your body, but it you have not crossed over into BDD just yet. There is a self-administered test which can indicate how likely it is that you suffer from BDD, however, that is not a definitive diagnosis but a tool to help you decide the next step.

If you do have BDD, there are a few different options available to you. Each treatment is geared toward the individual but communicating what works best for you and what does not is crucial. It is important to note that lasting changes take time and if something does not change right away, that is normal. Each person is different, and it may take you a few tries to find a treatment plan that works best for you.

The first method of treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy assists you to recognize which of your thoughts are irrational and provide you with ways to restructure the negative thinking patterns. You also learn techniques to identify unhealthy thoughts or behaviors and how to replace those destructive behaviors with positive, nurturing ones. It is crucial to take whatever learned behaviors you obtain from each session and practice them at home to develop a stronger habit.

The second method of treatment is antidepressant medications. If it is the case that you are someone who will benefit from mood stabilizers, this can be a worthwhile option. Certain medications may be used to block selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This helps you with the compulsive behaviors you may exhibit, which can lead to a decrease in anxiety as well. There may be a different treatment of medications subscribed to help with your specific needs.

In addition to the two main methods of treatment, there are certain lifestyle changes you can incorporate to help the process along. Learning what your warning signs are is crucial for treatment. If you can identify what may trigger your symptoms, speak with your health care professionals to create a plan of action when a similar situation arises. You may also try becoming more physically active. Becoming more active does not always mean going to the gym. You can start out small by trying at-home yoga, going for a simple walk, or gardening.

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