Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) Signs, Symptoms and Causes
Body dysmorphic disorder symptoms involve a person's preoccupation with a real or perceived flaw in his or her appearance. (read: What is BDD?) Listed in the DSM-V as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), people with BDD perform repetitive, ritualistic or mental acts in response to preoccupation with these perceived flaws. These rituals, which are part of the BDD symptoms, become so pervasive and take up so much time as to significantly interfere with daily life.
Specific Body Dysmorphic Disorder Symptoms
It's important to understand that body dysmorphic disorder symptoms differ from the typical insecurities about appearance healthy people experience. As a type of OCD, BDD causes obsessive preoccupation with physical appearance in sufferers, focusing on perceived flaws or barely noticeable real ones. Effective treatment for body dysmorphic disorder is available, however, because of the shame surrounding the symptoms of BDD, many sufferers do not take advantage of it.
General body dysmorphic disorder signs include:
- The flaw or flaws are either imagined, or distress over a very slight actual physical asymmetry is excessive.
- The preoccupation causes the person considerable and excessive anxiety that negatively affects his or her daily life.
- No other mental disorder, such as anorexia nervosa, can account for the person's preoccupation with these imagined or very slight physical flaws.
- People with BDD may or may not have insight that their preoccupation is excessive.
Specific body dysmorphic disorder symptoms for people with the condition include:
- Strong belief that the flaw or physical abnormality makes him or her ugly
- Strong belief that others view his or her physical appearance as ugly
- Constant need for reassurance about physical appearance from others
- Undergoes frequent plastic surgery or non-invasive cosmetic procedures
- Performs excessive grooming rituals
- Excessively self-conscious
- Refuses to appear in photographs under any circumstances
- Avoids social situations
- Uses excessive make-up and goes to great lengths to camouflage the imagined defects with clothing
BDD obsessions and compulsions can focus on any part of the body, but some of the common body parts and features include:
- Overall facial area
- Skin and complexion
- Body shape
- Muscle size (What is Muscle Dysmorphia, Bigorexia, Reverse Anorexia?)
- Genitalia (size and appearance)
How BDD Symptoms Play Out
Individuals with BDD may change the body part or feature they focus on over time. These people usually perform ritualistic acts, either physical or mental, to relieve anxiety arising from their obsessive thoughts about appearance. For example, a person who imagines that their nose sticks out too much or is too wide may constantly check and recheck its appearance in the mirror before they leave the home. The checking and rechecking is typically excessive, resulting in the person arriving late to work or other activities. He or she may also cover the nose, using a hand or (weather permitting) a winter scarf when forced to communicate directly with others. As they age, they may become preoccupied with wrinkles or abdominal shape, abandoning their focus on the nose. Just imagine if you became so preoccupied with a certain feature of your body or face that it significantly impacted your quality of life, happiness, and well-being. Such is the life of someone suffering from this often-debilitating disorder.
Causes of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
A type of obsessive compulsive-disorder, experts do not fully understand the causes of body dysmorphic disorder. As with many mental health disorders, the causes of BDD could include one or a combination of the following:
- Genetic causes – people who have biologically related family members with the disorder have a greater risk of developing BDD. This indicates that genetics may play a role in development of the condition.
- Brain differences – studies show that people with BDD may have structural brain differences or may have insufficient levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin.
- Environmental causes – a person's environment while growing up as well as certain culturally-based beliefs involving a negative body image or self perception may contribute to development of the disorder
Body dysmorphic disorder causes significant stress and anxiety in sufferers, resulting in low quality of life and, often, severe chronic depression. If you, or anyone you love exhibits body dysmorphic disorder symptoms, it's important to seek help from a medical doctor or mental health specialist.
Last Updated: 03 February 2017
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD