Body dysmorphia, a mental health condition that causes excessive preoccupation with perceived flaws in one's physical appearance, affects many teens, particularly girls. Referred to as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), this condition is six times more prevalent in girls than in boys, a new study has revealed.

BDD alters a person's perception of their body and appearance, resulting in negative thoughts and emotions that significantly impact the quality of life. Although the condition is highly disabling and usually persists if not effectively treated, BDD often goes undetected and untreated in youth.

"Since young people with BDD tend not to spontaneously disclose their symptoms unless directly asked, it is crucial that clinicians utilize BDD screening tools and ask young people directly about appearance concerns," said lead researcher Georgina Krebs, an associate professor of psychology with University College London.

The new study analyzed data from more than 7,600 kids and teens who were part of a health survey in England. The survey included a question regarding whether the child ever experienced concerns about their appearance. Respondents who answered "a little" or "a lot" underwent additional screening for body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

According to the results published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, BDD affects 1.8% of girls compared to 0.3% of boys.

Researchers noted that around 70% of youngsters diagnosed with BDD also experienced at least one other psychological disorder, such as anxiety (59%) and depression (32%).

"Screening for BDD in young people with anxiety disorders and depression, the most common co-morbidities is likely to improve detection," Krebs said.

About half (46%) of people with BDD reported instances of self-harm or suicide attempts, compared to only 8% among those without the disorder.

"BDD is a relatively common mental disorder, especially among adolescent girls, and is associated with high levels of comorbid psychopathology, risk, and psychosocial impairment. Moreover, appearance preoccupation is a significant clinical phenomenon in its own right, linked with substantial morbidity. Efforts are needed to raise awareness of BDD, improve screening practices, and reduce barriers to evidence-based treatment" the researchers wrote.

Here are some of the signs of BDD:

1) Excessive thoughts about body "flaws" or "defects" that others might not even find significant.

2) Repeatedly checking appearance in the mirror or selfies and experiencing panic attacks when looking at their perceived flaws.

3) The feeling of shame or disgust about the body and a sense of fear or anxiety thinking that others are staring, judging, or making fun of their body.

4) Patients may seek repeated medical procedures, such as cosmetic surgery, to "fix" the flaws.
Thoughts of self-harm or suicide linked to bodily appearance.


Although the exact mechanism that triggers the condition is not known, experts believe that factors such as genetics, brain structure, cultural influences, and history of adverse childhood experiences including abuse, neglect, or bullying can increase the risk of developing the condition.