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Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a distinct mental disorder in which a person has symptoms of a medical illness, but the symptoms cannot be fully explained by an actual physical disorder. People with BDD are preoccupied with an imagined physical defect or a minor defect that others often cannot see. As a result, people with this disorder see themselves as "ugly" and often avoid social exposure to others or turn to plastic surgery to try to improve their appearance.

BDD shares some features with eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder. BDD is similar to eating disorders in that both involve a concern with body image. However, a person with an eating disorder worries about weight and the shape of the entire body, while a person with BDD is concerned about a specific body part.

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People with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) have recurring and distressing thoughts, fears, or images (obsessions) that they cannot control. The anxiety (nervousness) produced by these thoughts leads to an urgent need to perform certain rituals or routines (compulsions). With BDD, a person's preoccupation with the defect often leads to ritualistic behaviors, such as constantly looking in a mirror or picking at the skin. The person with BDD eventually becomes so obsessed with the defect that his or her social, work, and home functioning suffers.

BDD is a chronic (long-term) disorder that affects men and women equally. It usually begins during the teen years or early adulthood.

The most common areas of concern for people with BDD include:

  • Skin imperfections: These include wrinkles, scars, acne, and blemishes.
  • Hair: This might include head or body hair or absence of hair.
  • Facial features: Very often this involves the nose, but it also might involve the shape and size of any feature.
  • Body weight: Sufferers may obsess about their weight or muscle tone.

Other areas of concern include the size of the penis, muscles, breasts, thighs, buttocks, and the presence of certain body odors.

What Are the Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Some of the warning signs that a person may have BDD include:

  • Engaging in repetitive and time-consuming behaviors, such as looking in a mirror, picking at the skin, and trying to hide or cover up the perceived defect
  • Constantly asking for reassurance that the defect is not visible or too obvious
  • Repeatedly measuring or touching the perceived defect
  • Experiencing problems at work or school, or in relationships due to the inability to stop focusing about the perceived defect
  • Feeling self-conscious and not wanting to go out in public, or feeling anxious when around other people
  • Repeatedly consulting with medical specialists, such as plastic surgeons or dermatologists, to find ways to improve his or her appearance

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