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Exploring the Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

written by: ChelseaOliver • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 10/7/2010

Body dysmorphic disorder is characterized by a highly distorted body image. This article defines the disorder as well as discussing the prevalent signs and symptoms.

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    What Exactly is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

    Body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD, is defined as an obsession with an imagined defect in one's appearance. There also may be an actual abnormality, but while this abnormality is usually quite minor, the individual with the illness regards it with excessive concern.

    In order for an individual to be diagnosed as having body dysmorphic disorder, this obsession must impact the individual to the point where their ability to interact in a social setting or to work is disturbed. Body dysmorphic disorder is often comorbid with among other disorders, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and depression.

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    Symptoms

    The main body dysmorphic disorder symptoms are that individuals are entirely preoccupied with the idea that one or more elements of their appearance is deformed, grotesque, or otherwise misshapen. This enveloping obsession is most frequently focused on the features of the face as well as the hair and skin, but it can occur in regards to any part of the body.

    An individual with body dysmorphic disorder will also often be preoccupied with more than one area of their body at a time. Their complaints can be vague, such as an overall feeling of repulsiveness, or quite specific, such as an excessive concern about acne, scars, ill proportions and asymmetry and wrinkles, to name but a few.

    Even if a body part that a BDD person obsesses about changes over time (such as with cosmetic surgery) it may not escape intense scrutiny.

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    More Body Dysmorphic Disorder Symptoms

    Sufferers of this disorder typically attach other harmful and dangerous thoughts to their view of their 'distorted body image'. For example, someone with body dysmorphic disorder might believe that because of their perceived deformity or flaw, other individuals find them disgusting and thus do not want to be in their company, or even do not love them.

    Patients frequently exhibit what are called delusions of reference; they have extremely poor judgment of their own physical appearance, and believe that other people assess them in an adverse way due to their perceived defect.

    Alongside the intense impact the symptoms of BDD have on the sufferer's relationships with others, another symptom of this disorder is the behaviours undertaken in order to attempt to amend, hide or perpetually criticize the deficiency. These behaviours take many forms, a multitude of which are quite time consuming. These behaviours include, but are not limited to:

    • Excessive and immoderate primping and time spent looking at themselves in the mirror
    • Attempts to conceal the imaginary flaw or flaws with things such as cosmetics and clothing
    • Dieting
    • Seeking consolation from others
    • In extreme cases, even surgery and skin treatments
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    References

    Body Dysmorphic Disorder, D Veale, Postgrad Med J 2004 80: 67-71\

    Body Dysmorphic Disorder, DJ Castle, S Rossell, M Kyrios, Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2006