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The risks of cosmetic surgery for body dysmorphic disorder patients

Many people feel unhappy or insecure about their physical appearance during some point in their lives. However, individuals can become obsessed with the way that they look and worry excessively about small, or imagined, flaws within their appearance leading to a little known illness called body dysmorphia. To cure the dysmorphia, some go under the knife and make changes to their appearance. However, having body dysmorphia and plastic surgery can be risky. 

Understanding body dysmorphia

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is estimated to affect 1 in 50 people and is a disabling preoccupation with perceived defects. The condition usually develops in adolescence, a time when people are generally most sensitive about their appearance, and can affect both men and women, making sufferers excessively self-conscious.

Symptoms tend to include checking your appearance repeatedly and trying to camouflage or alter the defects you see. Many patients often undergo needless cosmetic treatments. Onlookers are frequently perplexed because they can see nothing out of the ordinary, but BDD causes devastating distress and interferes substantially with your ability to function socially.

That's why it's important to diagnose people with BDD early, as it's easier to treat the condition before your thoughts and anxieties have really become entrenched.

Body dysmorphia is commonly referred to in the media as 'imagined ugliness syndrome' which isn't particularly helpful as the word 'ugliness' is very real to the individual concerned and does not reflect the stress and anxiety that BDD can cause.

Many people with BDD don't always seek help as they are worried about being viewed as vain and narcissistic. The condition is incredibly misunderstood, and more funding is needed for research. Figures show that 1 in 330 people take their own life each year because of their BDD, so it is important that the media helps to raise awareness of BDD and most importantly, reinforces the fact that it is a treatable condition.

The effects of social media on BDD patients

Social media and bullying has frequently been cited as a contributory factor in influencing body image. A recent survey showed that teenagers spend over an hour a day using social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

In recent years, the 'selfie' has become a social media phenomenon with smartphones making it easier to take daily snaps of yourself. A survey showed that 16-25 year olds spend, on average, 16 minutes and seven attempts to take the perfect selfie.

It's difficult to draw the line where body dissatisfaction stops and BDD starts. Social media, in particular Instagram, certainly play a part in showcasing perfect bodies and BDD patients just want to fit in with what they see.

Cosmetic surgery and BDD

Many people who suffer with body dysmorphia try to alter perceived defects with frequent and repetitive cosmetic surgery. However, fewer than 10% of BDD patients will be satisfied with the results of the BDD plastic surgery, and their anxieties are often transferred to another aspect of their appearance. It is thought that around 15% of people seeking plastic surgery have BDD.

Although cosmetic surgery can temporarily reduce the anxiety caused by your BDD, it's likely that you'll soon find yourself fixating on another part of your body that you want to change. In addition, all cosmetic surgery comes with risks and it's a possibility that some patients will have 'botched' surgery which can ultimately make your condition worse.

At its worst, BDD can make regular employment or family life impossible. Those in regular employment or those who have family responsibilities would almost certainly find life more productive and satisfying if they did not have the symptoms of BDD. Partners, friends, and family members can often find it very distressing when they are unable to help the person they love stop feeling 'ugly' or regain control of their lives.

Signs and symptoms of BDD

The following symptoms may suggest that you or someone you know may be suffering with BDD:

  • Obsessively checking your appearance in a mirror or reflective surface
  • Cutting or combing your hair to make it 'just so'
  • Picking your skin to make it smooth and feeling for imperfections and flaws
  • Constantly comparing yourself to models in magazines or friends'/celebrities' social media
  • Disproportionate amount of discussion about your appearance
  • Using make-up to camouflage and hide behind

To learn more, or if you are worried you might have BDD, there is more information on the Priory website and from the BDD Foundation. Details about specialist services are available here.

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0800 840 3219 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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