Body dysmorphic disorder

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: February 15th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Many people can think of one physical feature about themselves they might change or improve, if only they had a magic wand. But some mirror-gazers take the self-critiques to the extreme, worrying about imagined or slight imperfections on a daily basis, to the detriment of their day-to-day lives.

Experts say body dysmorphic disorder… characterized by a preoccupation with a minor bodily flaw, such as mild acne or thinning hair… is a psychiatric condition that affects nearly two percent of the general population. The actual number may likely be even higher, because the disorder is often underdiagnosed.

A Brown University study assessed non-psychiatric treatment received by two-hundred-fifty adults and thirty-nine adolescents with the disorder. Nearly half the adults in the study received dermatological treatment and nearly one-quarter had surgery, such as breast or nose augmentation because of perceived flaws. But afterward most patients were still obsessed with their appearance.

Experts say the disorder most often begins in adolescence or early adulthood and generally affects women and men with about the same frequency. Clues to the onset of the condition include avoidance of social situations because of concern a perceived body flaw will be noticed or judged, excessive grooming and mirror-gazing, and frequent overt attempts to conceal the defect.

Although health experts currently know of no cure for the disorder, medications can minimize its effects. Counseling also helps patients learn to resist compulsive behaviors and destructive thoughts, teaching them to face life with a new, more positive, attitude.