Port Huron Hospital – a leader in healing, your partner in health.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health disorder. If you have BDD, you may be so upset about the appearance of your body, that it interferes with your ability to function normally. Many of us have what we perceive as a flaw in our appearance—but if you have BDD, your reaction to this “flaw” may become overwhelming.

You may find that negative thoughts about your body are hard to control. You may even spend hours each day worrying about how you look. Your thinking can become so negative and persistent, you may think about suicide at times.

Symptoms

You can become obsessed with any part of your body, but the most common areas of upset are your face, hair, skin, chest, and stomach.

Symptoms of BDD include:

  • Constantly checking yourself in the mirror

  • Avoiding mirrors

  • Trying to hide your body part under a hat, scarf, or makeup

  • Constantly exercising or grooming

  • Constantly comparing yourself with others

  • Always asking other people whether you look OK

  • Not believing other people when they say you look fine

  • Avoiding social activities

  • Not going out of the house, especially in the daytime

  • Seeing many health care providers about your appearance

  • Having unnecessary plastic surgeries

  • Picking at your skin with fingers or tweezers

  • Feeling anxious, depressed, and ashamed

  • Thinking of suicide

Who’s at risk

Nobody knows the cause of BDD. It usually begins in your adolescence or teenage years. Experts think that about one of every 100 people has BDD. Men and women are equally affected. Factors that may contribute to BDD include:

  • A family history of BDD or a similar mental disorder

  • Abnormal levels of brain chemicals

  • Personality type

  • Life experiences

Diagnosis

A mental health professional will diagnose BDD based on your symptoms and how much they affect your life.

To be diagnosed with BDD:

  • You must be abnormally concerned about a small or nonexistent body flaw

  • Your thoughts about your body flaw must be severe enough that they interfere with your ability to function normally

  • Other mental health disorders must be ruled out as a cause of your symptoms

Other mental health disorders that are common in people with BDD include obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

Treatment and prevention

Treatment for BDD may include talk therapy or medications. The best treatment is probably a combination of the two. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective talk therapy. In CBT, you work with a mental health professional to replace negative thoughts and thought patterns with positive thoughts. The antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors usually work best for BDD.

The best way to prevent BDD from becoming a serious problem is to catch it early. BDD tends to get worse with age. Plastic surgery to correct a body flaw rarely helps. If you have a child or teenager who seems overly worried about his or her appearance and needs constant reassurance, talk with your health care provider. If you have symptoms of BDD yourself, talk with your health care provider or a mental health professional.