Body dysmorphia symptoms, diagnosis and treatment
Written by Babylon Team
, 6 min read
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) affects around 1 in 50 people. While many of us are prone to thinking a little too much about certain flaws or blemishes on our bodies, for those living with the condition, these negative thoughts are overwhelming and cause significant distress.
With the right diagnosis and treatment, it is possible to manage body dysmorphic disorder and make daily life easier. With that in mind, let’s take a look at everything you need to know about diagnosing and treating body dysmorphia.
What is body dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition that affects both men and women. Those who suffer from body dysmorphia develop obsessions about flaws in their physical appearance. These perceived flaws may be minor or may not even exist at all.
Body dysmorphia is more than simply disliking certain physical attributes and body parts. In fact, people with body dysmorphia spend so much time fixating, worrying, and obsessing about their perceived defect that it prevents them from functioning in daily life.
What causes body dysmorphic disorder?
There is no one specific cause for body dysmorphic disorder. In fact, medical experts believe it is a combination of numerous environmental, biological, and psychological factors.
Some possible contributory factors include:
- Family history of body dysmorphic disorder
- Family history of other similar mental health conditions
- Life experiences such as bullying or teasing at school
- Personality traits such as perfectionism or comparison to others
- Cultural influences such as diet culture
- Co-existing mental health diagnoses like depression, anxiety or OCD
- Low self-esteem or loneliness
What are the signs and symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder?
Like any mental health disorder, there are many possible symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. Some people who suffer from BDD may display most of the common symptoms while others may only experience one or two. In order to receive an official diagnosis of body dysmorphia as per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the patient’s preoccupation with a perceived flaw or imagined defect must cause significant distress and impact their ability to function day-to-day.
Common symptoms of BDD can include:
- Avoiding mirrors
- Obsessive mirror checking
- Excessive grooming
- Compulsive behaviors like skin picking
- Exercising excessively or obsessively
- Camouflaging (using clothes, hats, or make-up to hide perceived flaws)
- Seeking unnecessary plastic surgery
What is muscle dysmorphia?
Muscle dysmorphia is a type of body dysmorphia. The key distinction is that those who suffer from muscle dysmorphia fixate on muscle tone and size.
Many of the symptoms of muscle dysmorphia are similar to body dysmorphia. However, there may also be more of a focus on exercise and diet. Some common signs of muscle dysmorphia include:
- Excessive exercise (particularly lifting weights)
- Obsessive calorie counting
- Avoiding eating in settings where there’s less control over food content
- Using steroids or other drugs to enhance appearance or muscle growth
What are the complications and risks of body dysmorphia and muscle dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphia can be overwhelming and extremely intense. Left untreated, the symptoms can have a significant impact on one’s quality of life.
Living with body dysmorphia without professional help can lead to:
- Severe social anxiety
- Low self-esteem
- Negative thoughts
- Feelings of isolation
- Relationship problems (with friends, romantic relationships, family members, or colleagues)
- Performance problems at work or school
- Reckless behavior such as excessive cosmetic surgery or dangerous dieting
- Suicidal thoughts
Can you have body dysmorphic disorder and other mental health conditions?
Like many mental health conditions, it is possible to suffer from BDD and other conditions at the same time. In fact, it’s common for BDD patients to also suffer from social anxiety disorder, various eating disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
BDD can often be misdiagnosed as OCD and other disorders due to the similarity in some of the symptoms in patients. It’s therefore extremely important to seek a proper diagnosis from a mental health professional. This will help make sure that you are receiving the proper treatment for the right psychiatric disorder.
What are the body dysmorphia treatment options?
Living with body dysmorphic disorder can be truly overwhelming. The good news is that there are many different ways to treat body dysmorphia. With the right support and guidance from healthcare professionals, you can learn to control repetitive behaviors and significantly improve your quality of life.
Therapy options for treating body dysmorphic disorder
Once you reach out to your healthcare provider for support, they may suggest that you try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is a type of psychotherapy (sometimes referred to as talk therapy) that is used to treat a number of different mental health conditions. Its main focus is to help patients to identify and change their thought and behavior patterns.
Using a method called exposure and response prevention (ERP), cognitive behavioral therapy is designed to help decrease repetitive and compulsive behaviors like mirror checking and camouflaging by gradually exposing patients to situations that they fear.
Another method used (particularly if the patient is reluctant to try ERP) is Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Using techniques such as mindfulness, this type of therapy focuses on helping the patient to tolerate and accept the things that otherwise cause them anxiety.
Medication for body dysmorphia
There is no medication treatment approved by the FDA specifically for body dysmorphic disorder. However, healthcare professionals and psychiatry experts often prescribe medications that are used to treat similar or related disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Fluoxetine are the most commonly used drugs for body dysmorphia. This antidepressant medication can help to control compulsive behaviors and obsessive thinking as well as symptoms such as anxiety and impulsivity.
Another option is a medication called Clomipramine. This is more commonly prescribed to treat OCD but some studies suggest that it can also be effective in the treatment of body dysmorphia.
Different drugs will work better for different people, so it’s important to seek professional medical advice from a qualified clinician before you take any medication for body dysmorphia. It’s also worth noting that some people may respond better to therapy and will therefore not require the use of medication at all.
How to help a loved one with body dysmorphia
It can be hard to know exactly how to help a loved one who is suffering from a mental health condition. It’s a deeply personal and overwhelming experience and it’s therefore difficult to judge whether you are helping or hindering their progress.
Some useful tips for helping a family member or loved one with body dysmorphia include:
- Listen (you don’t always need to provide a solution — just listen)
- Accept their feelings (even if you don’t understand them)
- Provide practical support so that they can prioritize their therapy sessions or self-care practices
- Acknowledge and celebrate the small wins
- Learn and understand their triggers
- Remember to take care of yourself too!
Are You Obsessing Over Your Body Image for Hours at a Time? Babylon is Here to Help
It’s natural to think about your appearance from time to time, but if you are obsessively or excessively worrying about your appearance in a way that’s causing significant distress and disruption to your daily life, it’s time to get some help.
If you think you or a loved one are displaying some symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder, make an online appointment with the Babylon healthcare team today. Our friendly healthcare providers will listen to your areas of concern and together we’ll get you the support and treatment you deserve.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/body-dysmorphic-disorder
- Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/body-dysmorphic-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353938
- International OCD Foundation https://bdd.iocdf.org/expert-opinions/muscle-dysmorphia/
- American Psychological Association https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/undergrad/ptacc/body-dysmorphic-traynor.pdf
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/body-dysmorphic-disorder/symptoms-related-disorders
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/find-help/treatment-help/types-of-therapy
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/body-dysmorphic-disorder/treatment/act-with-cbt-for-bdd
National Library of Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2705931/#:~:text=SRIs%20currently%20available%20in%20the,best%2Dstudied%20medications%20for%20BDD
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.