How Body Dysmorphic Disorder Works

Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Rubberball/Rubberball Productions/                  Getty Images                          Someone with BDD may obsessively check the mirror to view his or her "flaws."
Rubberball/Rubberball Productions/ Getty Images Someone with BDD may obsessively check the mirror to view his or her "flaws."
Rubberball/Rubberball Productions/Getty Images

First, let's go over some typical behaviors of a person living with BDD and some of the actions they might take before seeking treatment. Keep in mind, these behaviors are usually compulsive, meaning that even though the person may want to stop, he or she simply must repeat the behaviors. Also, while the person may at first perform these behaviors or rituals in order to feel better, the urge to continue can intensify and become a source of even greater anxiety and unhappiness.

Common symptoms and signs of BDD may include:

  • Excessively checking appearance in mirrors or other reflective surfaces
  • Constantly comparing appearance to other people
  • Picking at or otherwise attempting to fix the imagined flaw, such as through excessive grooming
  • Measuring, touching or checking the supposed defect
  • Changing clothes frequently
  • Refusing to be photographed and destroying existing photographs
  • Constantly asking loved ones for reassurance
  • Camouflaging, masking or disguising the perceived flaw with heavy make-up, bulky clothing, hats or posture
  • Excessively dieting and exercising
  • Feeling anxiety and fear when around other people
  • Avoiding mirrors or reflective surfaces
  • Experiencing suicidal thoughts

As part of the condition, people with BDD might:

  • Seek medical advice and treatment from doctors, cosmetic surgeons and dentists in an effort to fix the supposed physical defect
  • Perform surgeries on themselves
  • Avoid social situations
  • Isolate themselves from other people
  • Harm themselves
  • Attempt suicide

BDD can lead people to drop out of school or quit their jobs and become housebound. Some may even isolate themselves in a room and allow others to see them only when they are completely masked or veiled. Many people with BDD -- around 80 percent -- have considered suicide, and about 25 percent of people with the disorder have attempted suicide [source: Butler Hospital].

The disorder typically begins in adolescence. However, some people start to exhibit symptoms in childhood, and others may not develop the disorder until reaching adulthood. Researchers are exploring different avenues as they search for a direct cause of BDD, examining possible biological, psychological and environmental factors. So far, those efforts have not established a direct cause, and many in the field believe BDD's onset to be complex, with a number of possible contributing factors. Let's take a look at some of the possible factors in the next two pages.