Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder causes a person to obsess over a perceived deformity with his or her body or appearance. The deformity may be slight, to the point that it's nearly unnoticeable by others, or it may be completely imagined by the sufferer. This obsession with negative body or self-image leads to multiple symptoms which may substantially interfere with a person's normal and everyday functioning. Common areas of focus with body dysmorphic disorder are the hair, the skin and the nose, but any one or more parts of the body may become a point of negative interest.

Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder can lead to numerous symptoms and interruptions to normal behavior. This condition may cause a person to develop obsessive qualities or additional disorders, such as depression, anorexia or a social phobia. Particular symptoms usually depend upon the area of the body that is perceived to be ugly, deformed or defective. Following is a list of possible symptoms, side effects and behavioral traits that may affect a person who suffers from body dysmorphic disorder:

  • Obsession over one or more parts of the body or appearance
  • Delusional or suicidal thoughts
  • Loneliness due to social withdrawal or self-imposed isolation
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Low self-esteem and self-conscious behavior
  • Problems with relationships
  • Obsessive mirror-checking, possibly with perceived changes to the area of focus each time a reflection is studied
  • Avoidance of mirrors or removal of mirrors from the home
  • Obsessive body modification, surgically or otherwise
  • Excessive grooming, such as shaving, plucking eyebrows or picking at the skin
  • Compulsive touching of the area of focus
  • Constant reassurance is needed from others
  • Comparison of body image with friends, magazine models or celebrities

Causes of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

The cause of body dysmorphic disorder is not specifically known. Research suggests that a combination of many factors may play a role in its development for some. People with a family history including this disorder are more likely to be affected by it. This can be caused by a genetic inheritance or by behavioral traits learned from close family members from a very young age. Additionally, brain chemical imbalance can contribute to symptoms, as can stress, abuse or a negative experience involving self-image or a particular part of the body.

Diagnosis of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder can be difficult to diagnose, as it so frequently is accompanied by symptoms of other mental disorders. Regardless of the varying degree of other symptoms, generally a person who is obsessed with at least one part of the body and is prohibited, in one or more ways, from functioning normally in society because of the obsession, a diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder may be made. A medical doctor will likely run tests to first rule out any medical condition that may be contributing to symptoms. Once all physical ailments are ruled out, a psychiatrist or psychologist will be recommended to conduct an evaluation, including recording of family medical history, assessment of behavior by interviews and a overview of recommended treatment options.

Treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder

The most successful treatment options for body dysmorphic disorder include some type of therapy. Medications are available, though none are approved specifically for this disorder. Anti-depressants may be prescribed if a brain chemical imbalance is suspected or if symptoms of clinical depression are prevalent. Cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven to be the most successful treatment for this condition. During this type of therapy, a person is trained to become aware of factors that may be triggering symptoms and learns distracting exercises and coping skills to help change negative behavior into actions that are more healthy and productive.