Body Dysmorphic Disorder
When poor body image is an illness
What is body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)?
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a serious illness in which a person is preoccupied with minor or imaginary physical flaws, usually of the skin, hair, and nose. A person with BDD tends to have cosmetic surgery, and as a rule, is unhappy with its outcome.
What are the symptoms of BDD?
- Being preoccupied with minor or imaginary physical flaws, usually of the skin, hair, and nose, such as acne, scarring, facial lines, marks, pale skin, thinning hair, excessive body hair, large nose, or crooked nose.
- Having a lot of anxiety and stress about the perceived flaw and spending a lot of time focusing on it, such as frequently picking at skin, excessively checking appearance in a mirror, hiding the imperfection, comparing appearance with others, excessively grooming, seeking reassurance from others about how they look, and getting cosmetic surgery.
Getting cosmetic surgery can make BDD worse. A person with BDD is often not happy with the surgical outcome. Even if satisfied with the surgery, the person may start to focus attention on another body area and become preoccupied trying to fix the new "defect." In this case, a person with BDD may become angry at the surgeon for making his or her appearance worse, and may even become violent with the surgeon.
What is the treatment for BDD?
- Medications. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs are antidepressants that decrease the obsessive and compulsive behaviors.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy. This is a type of therapy with several steps:
- The therapist asks the patient to enter social situations without covering up her "defect."
- The therapist helps the patient stop doing the compulsive behaviors to check the defect or cover it up. This may include removing mirrors, covering skin areas that the patient picks, or not using make-up.
- The therapist helps the sufferer change false beliefs about appearance.
Medically reviewed by Marina Katz, MD; American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology
Last update: 9/22/2009
The National Women's Health Information Center
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