A lot of people worry about their looks. But for some, obsessing over the shape of a nose, wrinkles or a receding hairline can lead to chronic anxiety, depression and even suicide.
Those are signs of body dysmorphic disorder. One in 50 people suffer from the illness, it usually develops in adolescence or early adulthood.
It's often been thought of as a psychological problem, but a team at UCLA found that it's likely related to how the brain is physically wired as well.
The researchers scanned the brains of 14 people diagnosed with the disorder and 16 healthy control subjects. They found that the neural wiring of the two groups differed significantly.
Those with body dysmorphic disorder showed patterns of "clustering," meaning they processed information in small areas rather than across the whole brain, as is common in healthy subjects.
The UCLA team believes that this neural pattern may be related to BDD's sufferers tendency to obsessively focus on small physical features rather than seeing their appearance as a whole.
Jamie Fuesner led the study. He says this kind of brain scan wouldn't be good for diagnosing body dysmorphic disorder because it's too expensive. However, he hopes that understanding the neurological roots of the problem will lead to new and better forms of treatment.
The research appears in the May issue of the journal Neuropharmacology.