Body Dysmorphic Disorder Causes & Effects

Most people have a few features about themselves that they do not like. Perhaps they feel their hairline is too far back, or their eyes are uneven, or their facial proportions are unbalanced. While some amount of bodily dissatisfaction is common, people with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) experience extreme distress about certain aspects of their bodies. They are most commonly worried about their skin, hair, or nose, though any body part can be a focus of attention.

In men, BDD can sometimes manifest as an extreme desire to “bulk up” or gain muscle, resulting in harmful eating behaviors and steroid use. In women, BDD can manifest with poor eating behaviors, extreme exercise routines, or other attempts to alter their physical appearance. People of both sexes with BDD may resort to extreme interventions such as plastic surgery. BDD involves more than just a slight bit of self-consciousness. People with this disorder may feel so anxious or self-conscious that they avoid social contact altogether, and may even consider suicide. Because the disorder involves a discomfort with one’s body, BDD sufferers may develop co-occurring eating disorders.

Although a struggle with BDD may feel never-ending, with help, it is possible to overcome this painful and disruptive disorder.

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Statistics

BDD appears to be one of the more common mental health disorders as approximately 1-3 percent of people have been diagnosed with the disorder. These numbers change depending on setting up to a maximum of 53 percent among those in cosmetic surgery settings. However, some research suggests these numbers may be underestimated, as slightly more than 30 percent of those in inpatient settings cited embarrassment as the reason for not disclosing their struggles with body image.

Causes and Risk Factors for BDD

The precise cause of BDD is the subject of ongoing research, but most experts agree that the disorder is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, including:

Genetic: Research suggests one’s genetics play a role in determining someone’s vulnerability to developing BDD. Individuals are more likely to develop BDD if they have first-order relatives with the disorder.

Environmental: Environmental factors also influence a person’s chance of developing BDD. Those who have had negative experiences involving their body or self-image are more likely to develop BDD, as are those who experienced childhood teasing, body-image-focused parenting, or strong social pressure to conform to a certain standard of beauty.

Risk Factors:

  • Personality factors, such as low self-esteem
  • Other mental illness
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Obsessive-compulsive traits

Signs and Symptoms of BDD

The symptoms of BDD can vary case-to-case depending on individual history and personality, but the following are some common signs and symptoms of BDD:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Disguising certain body parts with clothing
  • Frequently checking the mirror
  • Picking at one’s skin
  • Excessive grooming, exercise, and hygiene behaviors
  • Extreme exercise routines
  • Seeking reassurance from others about physical appearance
  • Excessive spending on beauty products
  • Other idiosyncratic behaviors, such as drinking water to make one’s face appear fuller

Physical symptoms:

  • Weight changes due to excessive exercise or unhealthy eating
  • Complications from cosmetic surgery
  • Medical conditions, such as diabetes or malnutrition, from poor eating habits
  • Scabs and infection from picking at skin

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Distractibility
  • Poor attention and concentration
  • Poor memory due to inability to focus

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Avoidance of social situations due to fear of ridicule
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Poor relationships
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of BDD

BDD is a serious condition that can have numerous negative effects on a person if left untreated. These can include:

  • Loss of relationships
  • Poor performance at work or school
  • Loss of job
  • Repeated hospitalizations
  • Medical conditions due to lack of proper nutrition
  • Side effects of steroids, including breast development, shrunken testicles, and infertility in men and deeper voice, increased body hair, and infrequent periods in women, as well as acne, tendonitis, tumors, and aggressive behaviors in both sexes
  • Development of a co-occurring mental health disorder
  • Suicide attempts

Co-Occurring Disorders

People who struggle with body dysmorphic disorder often struggle with other mental health concerns as well. Unfortunately, people with BDD are especially vulnerable to developing eating disorders, such anorexia or bulimia. Other common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Personality disorders
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