What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), also known as Body Dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where there is a preoccupation with an ‘imagined’ defect in appearance. It can often lead to distress and can greatly affect your everyday life.

Someone suffering with BDD will usually find social and interpersonal situations difficult, for example going to school, work or activities like swimming. Some of the symptoms include constant comparisons to others in response to concerns about their appearance, and safety behaviours, like seeking reassurance.

It is mainly found in women, with recent studies showing that 75% of identified BDD sufferers were female. It is often associated, and can sometimes be a risk factor, of other mental health conditions, like anxiety, depression and anorexia nervosa, as the preoccupation with the supposed ‘defect’ can become consuming and can create major body image/confidence concerns.

This is why it is treated with CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which aims to use talking to change the way you think and behave, and some cases have been known to respond to antidepressants; though these are not the chosen course of treatment.

There are also major links between the increased usage of social networking sites (SNS) and the increase in cases of BDD. Many ‘influencers’ on sites such as Instagram, have unrealistic body goals and expectations, leading to negative comparison in regards to appearance and body image.

This results in body dissatisfaction and can facilitate the development and maintenance of BDD. This is one of the main reasons BDD is so prevalent in young adults and teenagers.

There is a subtype of BDD called ‘Muscle Dysmorphia’ (MD) which is where people who suffer believe they are not sufficiently large or muscular. This is most commonly found in men, with an estimate that around 100,000 men in the US currently identify as having MD.

This means their lives can become consumed with weightlifting and rigorous dieting, as they are constantly aiming to increase muscle mass. There are also cases where anabolic steroids have been abused, to try and reach the desired muscularity.

Both BDD, and MD, are relatively newly recognised disorders, so there is a limited understanding of their abundance and effects, with few clinical samples.

The numbers of people suffering are increasing, however, correlating to the increased use of SNS and the expectation to have the ‘ideal’ body, and with the larger focus of mental health, more research will be done to help diagnoses and come up with more effective treatment plans.


Milad Rouf Final Year Medical Student, Cardiff University.

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