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Body Dysmorphia Disorder


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What Is It


According to WebMD, Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) is a disorder where an individual is obsessed with flaws in their appearance to an excessive point where it begins negatively impacting their way of life. Having thoughts of one’s appearance is quite normal at any age. However, spending an abnormal amount of time concerned about appearance and others’ judgment is a disorder. As explained by John Hopkins Medicine, individuals with BDD spend hours obsessing over their appearance, often leading to negative thoughts of themselves, resulting in self-harm or suicide. Individuals of any age and gender can have BDD. However, eMental Health identifies that it is most common in teenage girls. BDD is a long-term disorder that usually begins in the early adolescent years.


Causes


The exact cause of BDD is unknown; however, there are many theories on it. One theory describes a possible disorder in the chemical functioning of the brain that overthinks and sees these flaws. Other possibilities include traumatic events during youth, low-self esteem, the living environment, or even genetics.


Symptoms


BDD is the obsessive behaviour over one or more body parts that the individual perceives as flawed. These parts are most commonly composed of skin (acne, scars, dry skins), hair (hair loss, body hair), facial features (shapes and sizes of features), and body weight (muscle mass, loss of weight, fat appearance).


NHS and eMental Health outlines some common symptoms of BDD:

  1. Feeling conscious of oneself’s appearance and avoiding social/group activities

  2. Consulting with medical practitioners about body features

  3. Constantly comparing oneself to others, partaking in time-consuming behaviour such as repeatedly looking in mirrors or wearing heavy makeup to disguise the “imperfections”

  4. Suicidal/depressive thoughts resulting in self-harm

  5. Asking of other’s opinions on their flaws


These symptoms can interfere with the daily life of the individual and can result in job loss, loss of motivation, poor academic performance, financial trouble, and even substance abuse.


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Case Example


Below is a case example of a female high school student with serious BDD.


Gosem feels like her nose is too big and fat. She often finds herself comparing herself to celebrities with a thin small nose. Sometimes she browses the web for plastic surgeons’ consultations. She usually avoids large gatherings and tends to critique other people for their looks. Gosem tends to blame her mom for her big fat nose and often stays indoors. Before going to school, Gosem puts on contour and highlighter to make her nose look thinner. However many compliments Gosem gets at school for her nose, she feels like a fraud and often spends class obsessing over her looks.


Treatment


Many cases of BDD aren’t identified because of the shame that many of the diagnosed have with announcing their symptoms to medical professionals or family and friends. When a physician suspects that a patient may have BDD, a physical examination occurs as well as a family history assessment. The physician may refer the patients to a psychiatrist or a therapist.


A psychiatrist or physician may prescribe the following treatments to the diagnosed individual:


Medication


A physician or psychiatrist may prescribe antidepressants as a treatment for the disorder. Some antidepressants that may be prescribed are Pimozide, Olanzapine, and Abilify. These medications are Serotonin reuptake inhibitors that help inhibit the symptoms of the disorder. These medications generally take effect within 12 weeks of use.


Psychotherapy


Psychotherapy focuses on changing the thinking of the individual to correct their thoughts and perception of themselves. This type of therapy focuses on addressing these misconceptions and identifying positive aspects of the individual. Goals are set for individuals with BDD to help them overcome their disorder.


Group/Family Therapy


A group therapy session or family therapy session may be arranged to help individuals with BDD feel more comfortable in their environment and help address their perceptions. Also, making the individual feel vulnerable in a group setting with others helps make the individual with BDD feel as if it’s not normal to have the disorder. It creates a welcoming positive environment for everyone involved.


Image is courtesy of NYMetroParents.



Treatment for BDD depends on the age of the individual with the disorder and the severity of the disorder at present. It is always important to address the problem at an early stage before it develops into something more serious.


“You are imperfect. Permanently and inevitably flawed. And you are beautiful.”

- Amy Bloom



Article Author: Fariah Sandhu

Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Stephanie Sahadeo