Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Plastic Surgery

Nearly every plastic surgeon has been posed with the question, “Can plastic surgery help with body dysmorphic disorder?”

There is no simple answer. The relationship between body dysmorphic disorder and plastic surgery is complicated.

This is due to the complex nature of this condition. So much of it depends on the severity of the disorder.

What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

It’s safe to say that the vast majority of people have some aspect of their body that isn’t their favorite. It could be an uneven smile, a nose that’s too big, maybe a skin condition, or some extra weight around the middle.

Many patients feel enough dissatisfaction around these imperfections to seek out plastic surgery. For folks with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), however, the imperfections can feel larger than life. Even when they’re comparatively minor.

Those suffering with severe BDD might become so obsessed with their flaws – which in some cases are merely perceived and not even real – that they miss school or work and isolate themselves out of fear that they’re unpresentable or even hideous.

No matter how often they’re told that nothing is wrong they cannot see it and refuse to believe it. In severe cases, they cannot control their negative thoughts and fall prey to emotional distress and an inability to function in society.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Plastic Surgery

The causes of BDD are unclear and can be wide and varied. In most cases, there are certain biological and environmental factors that contribute to its development. For example, biological factors can include things such as genetic predisposition and malfunction of serotonin in the brain. Meanwhile, life experiences involving trauma or abuse may contribute on the environmental level.

Because there is such a strong psychological component, plastic surgery was for a long time contraindicated for BDD. The belief was that BDD was essentially a body image problem and that cosmetic procedures will yield little to no improvement in the patients’ perception of themselves.

Indeed, patients with severe BDD who exhibit avoidant and obsessive behavior, delusional thinking, and impaired global functioning are not likely to benefit from plastic surgery.

In these cases, psychological treatment is typically recommended – as those with severe BDD are working with flawed perception and therefore making a purely physical change will not change their outcome.

But What About Patients With Mild to Moderate BDD?

This is where treating body dysmorphic disorder with plastic surgery is starting to make some headway.

In cases where BDD is mild or even moderate but the patient is actively working with the psychological component of the disorder, plastic surgery could potentially improve their outcome.

The key is in the patient’s ability to gain the tools that help them to see that their perception is flawed, and then to have realistic expectations from the surgery. In other words, they have an understanding that plastic surgery is not a cure for their condition.

Thus, for patients with a low level of BDD who are doing the psychological work and are functioning in society, a plastic surgery procedure could move the progress along.

It’s still tricky though.

Plastic surgeons have to take extra measures in working with BDD patients. Validated preoperative assessment tools and management of post-procedure expectations are crucial for the welfare of both the patient and the physician.

Hope for Those With BDD?

Obviously, the issue of body dysmorphic disorder and plastic surgery is far from cut and dry.

But with an ever evolving understanding of BDD, there is new hope for those with mild or moderate cases to include plastic surgery as a part of their broader treatment plan.

Contact us today to find out more about how plastic surgery could improve your health and change how you feel about yourself for the better.