Body dysmorphic disorder: What is it and how does it affect people?

It’s classed as a mental health condition by the NHS

Olivia Petter
Sunday 28 April 2019 10:52 BST
Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation video says 'you are not alone'

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder related to body image.

It’s often referred to as “body dysmorphia” and causes someone to have obsessive concerns over their physical appearance, often regarding perceived flaws that other people wouldn’t notice.

It can lead sufferers to develop compulsive behaviours and routines, having a severe impact on their everyday lives and causing great emotional distress.

Read on for everything you need to know about BDD.

What is it?

BDD is a mental health condition that leaves sufferers with severe anxieties about their appearance.

People with BDD often spend a lot of time worrying about perceived physical flaws that are not be noticeable to others.

Every person’s experience of BDD is different and it can vary in severity from day-to-day, but most people will experience emotional issues as a result.

In some cases, the emotional toll BDD takes can lead to dangerous consequences, such as eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

It can also cause obsessive behaviours, such as picking at your skin or excessive use of mirrors - mental health charity Mind defines it as closely-related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

BDD can affect anyone of any age, but is most common in teenagers and young adults.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms will differ depending on the individual, but the NHS states some common ones.

These include worrying a lot about a specific part of the body and frequently comparing your appearance to those around you.

Thoughts that might arise for someone with BDD is that their body is out of proportion or lacking in symmetry.

Someone with BDD may also go to great lengths to conceal parts of their body that they perceive as flaws, by wearing baggy clothing or applying heavy makeup.

Mind also lists excessive use of tanning products, frequent weighing and exercising obsessively as compulsive behaviours that may arise due to BDD.

What causes it?

Like with most mental health conditions, the exact cause of BDD is not known.

The NHS says it might be down to a chemical imbalance in the brain and that it could also be triggered by a traumatic event in the past. Or, you could be genetically predisposed to it if you have a relative with BDD or OCD.

BDD is often wrongly thought of as being caused by an eating disorder. While the symptoms can be similar, someone with an eating disorder may not necessarily have BDD and vice versa.

How can it be treated?

If you think you might have BDD, you’re strongly advised to seek help from your GP.

They may refer you to a specialist for a psychiatric assessment, where you might be prescribed cognitive behavioural therapy, a talking therapy which you can either have on your own or in groups.

You might also be offered a type of antidepressant medication called a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.

For more information on BDD and ways to find support, you can visit the NHS website here, or Mind's website here.

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