Body dysmorphic disorder,mental health and cosmetic surgery

Body dysmorphic disorder, mental health and cosmetic surgery

By Liz Lockhart

This week The Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery has published the findings of a survey into the rate of mental illness in people who seek cosmetic surgery.  A brave move from an industry that must depend on this fact.

A new Belgian study suggests that many of the people who have their nose changed by cosmetic surgery have a mental illness in which they obsess over mostly imagined bodily flaws.

This obsession is most likely to be body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) which causes people to obsess over their appearance and also to have an exaggerated perception of a flaw.  It can hamper daily activities and some BDD sufferers will not go out of the house for fear that others may see this flaw.

Researchers from the University Hospitals Leuven in Belgium distributed BDD questionnaires and other surveys to 266 patients seeking rhinoplasty over a period of 16 months.  Alarmingly 20% of the patients had already undergone rhinoplasty previously.

33% of the patients had moderate to severe symptoms of BDD the study suggests.  This figure rose to 43% among patients who were seeking rhinoplasty purely for aesthetic reasons. 

According to an objective evaluation of each patient’s nasal shape, the severity of BDD symptoms were unrelated to the actual appearance of the nose. 

The study authors said that many patients who were highly concerned about their appearance had only minor defects or none.   They also noted that the symptoms of BDD are especially common in patients with previous plastic surgery or mental illness issues. 

Earlier studies have shown that nearly all individuals with BDD continue to show symptoms after undergoing cosmetic procedures and even can develop new appearance preoccupations.

The researchers hope that their findings will help the doctors to establish guidelines for which patients to treat. The findings of the present study coupled with the supporting literature, demonstrates the necessity for cosmetic surgeons to obtain a history of mental health and mental health treatment prior to surgery. 

Cosmetic surgery is not the best solution to defeat BDD. As we have reported, it may worsen the condition. Even if a person with BDD has cosmetic surgery and is happy with the procedure, it may not positively impact upon their mental health, they may focus even more importance on their bodily appearence without getting to the root cause of their insecurities. However, if someone does consider cosmetic surgery, then he/she should always ask the approval of a board certified plastic surgeon who is qualified say if he is really eligible to take the elective procedure. Always ensure you check the credentials of a surgeon and ask for references. In UK ensure your surgeon is BAAPS/ BAPRAS registered.

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