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Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) symptoms

People who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) may think that there is something wrong with any part of their body despite others observing the issues as minor or non-existent. Most sufferers are concerned with one or more aspects of their face, with the most common concerns being their skin, nose, hair, eyes, chin or lips. However, others are concerned with other parts of their body or their overall body build, including muscular definition or just an ‘ugly’ feeling in general.

If you have been diagnosed (or know someone) with BDD, common behaviours experienced include trying to cover up certain parts of your body with either with clothes, hats and make-up so as to disguise the perceived flaw from others. You may also complain of a lack of symmetry to your face or part of your body, feel that something is too big or too small, or that a part of your body is out of proportion to the rest of your body. Being obsessed with how other people look, particularly when browsing in fashion and lifestyle magazines or social media, are behaviours to look out for as comparing yourself to other people, including celebrities, is very common in BDD and can cause debilitating distress and anxiety.

Symptoms of BDD

Common signs and symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder can include:

  • Asking for constant reassurance about how you look, such as constantly asking “Are you sure I look ok?”, “Does my nose look strange?” or “Can you see my scar?”
  • Repeatedly checking your appearance in front of mirrors and windows as you are worried about a defect, while you may avoid them completely if you are worried about what you might see
  • Picking at your skin to make it smooth is particularly common if you also suffer from eczema, but can cause significant damage to the skin
  • Cutting or styling your hair until you think that it is feels 'right' which may take a lot of time and effort
  • Using heavy make-up to cover up an imperfection that you are particularly worried about
  • Considering cosmetic surgery or other medical treatment to alter appearance, this doesn’t necessarily lead to improved symptoms of BDD
  • Constantly comparing yourself to others and judging your appearance next to them, this can be exacerbated when looking at models or celebrities in magazines or on social media
  • Misuse of alcohol or drugs to deal with self-confidence issues which have been brought on by BDD

Excessive exercise regimes are also very common when you have BDD, as it is seen as a way of controlling how a certain part of your body looks and helps you feel as though you can stimulate change in your appearance. Restricting the amount you eat is also a common way of dealing with BDD; for example, you may think that your stomach, arms or legs are too large, so you may try to reduce this by drastically reducing the amount that you eat. The health implications that come with restricting one’s eating can be substantial, so it is incredibly important that you seek help early on if you see or experience symptoms of eating disorders in either yourself or others.

What are the emotional symptoms of BDD?

As well as physical symptoms, there are often emotional symptoms associated with BDD:

  • Self-harm
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Isolation from social situations
  • Lack or increase of sleep
  • Increase or decrease in eating

BDD is a distressing condition which can impact greatly on your ability to focus when socialising, working or carrying out tasks at home or relating to loved ones, due to a lack of confidence and constant distractions and obsessional thoughts about a certain part of your appearance. Fortunately, treatment for body dysmorphic disorder is available at Priory.

What are the emotional symptoms of BDD?
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Dr Anne Perry

This page was clinically reviewed by Dr Anne Perry (MBBS, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Ticehurst House, in January 2022.

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