Dysmorphia mental disorder


Dysmorphia is a mental disorder, where one becomes obsessed with an imaginary physical flaw in their appearance. It often involves surgeries to fix the ‘flaw’. This term comes from Greek roots meaning ‘unnatural’ and ‘fear of’.

Disorder similar to Dysmorphia

There are several disorders similar to dysmorphia syndrome such as body identity integrity disorder (BIID). In body integrity identity disorder (BIID), people identify as disabled or unable to feel whole because they wish to have specific disabilities. They may attempt self-amputation of healthy limbs or believe that specific organs must be removed in order for them to be whole and happy again. BIID does not usually begin until adulthood and often leads individuals to become depressed and sometimes suicidal. This disorder can lead to self-mutilation, substance abuse, and mental disorders.

Types of Dysmorphia

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There are several different types of dysmorphia syndromes or variations of this syndrome including body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), muscle dysmorphia, anorexia nervosa, pectus excavatum, copropraxia syndrome*, trichotillomania*, dermatillomania*, tics*, dermatitis artefacta*, delusional misidentification syndromes* and the Cotard delusion*. [*these are not actual diseases]

Individuals with dysmorphia syndrome often have a high opinion of their imaginary flaws. They believe that they are ugly even though everyone tells them they are beautiful. The psychological reasoning behind these delusions is not known.

Dysmorphic syndrome is often linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression. Sometimes it can result from a brain injury such as with the Cotard delusion, where patients believe that they are dead and rotting, with worms eating their organs. This can be caused by lesions in the right frontal lobe and limbic system.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a type of dysmorphia with an imagined defect in body image. Individuals suffering from BDD may think they have ugly faces, noses, eyes, ears, legs, and so on. Some with BDD may avoid mirrors altogether while others will spend hours obsessing over perceived faults or flaws in their bodies. They often go to great lengths to hide what they think is wrong.

Muscle dysmorphia is a type of BDD where individuals believe that they are small and weak or ‘puny’. They often take anabolic steroids, dietary supplements, diuretics, emetics (substances that make you vomit) in order to get bigger muscles. They may also become obsessive about working out or exercising. Some sufferers of muscle dysmorphia will work out for several hours every day, sometimes neglecting their bodies’ basic needs such as food and sleep.

The treatment of dysmorphia

A woman holding a plate of food

Treatment of dysmorphia disorder is complex and based on clinical experience and evidence-based medicine. People with this condition need to see a doctor (a psychologist, psychiatrist, or neurologist) who is an expert in treating this disorder. A team approach involving several health professionals may be needed. There are currently no medications that have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically for this disorder; however, some medications are used to treat other mental disorders (e.g., antidepressants such as serotonin reuptake inhibitors [e.g., Prozac®]) may be beneficial in certain people. Treatment usually takes longer than for body dysmorphic disorder because underlying psychological problems often must also be treated.

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