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Body Dysmorphia

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  • Ian Pitchford
    BBC HORIZON Complete Obsession BBC2 9:30pm Thursday 17th February 2000 What happens when a completely healthy person wants their leg amputated? Gregg is 55 and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1, 2000
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      BBC HORIZON
      Complete Obsession
      BBC2 9:30pm Thursday 17th February 2000
      What happens when a completely healthy person wants their leg amputated?

      Gregg is 55 and does not feel physically whole. This is despite the fact that
      he is physically healthy and able-bodied. Gregg believes he is incomplete with
      two legs and it has been his life-long struggle to get doctors to agree that
      removing one of his legs is the right thing for him. He isn't delusional. He
      knows what he is asking for and knows it is strange. But he cannot help his
      feelings. Gregg suffers from a rare but genuine psychological disorder - a form
      of body dysmorphia. And Gregg is not alone.

      Although Body Dysmorphia is rare, a worldwide network of sufferers is growing
      and demanding treatment. It affects both men and women and each person has a
      precise sense of which limb or limbs they want removed.

      Cases were cited a hundred years ago but still very little is known about the
      disorder. No one knows what causes it and very few psychiatrists have even
      encountered patients with the disorder. All that the patients seem to have in
      common is a strong memory of the first amputee they saw. They also report that
      the feelings started in childhood. However, the profession is now being forced
      to respond and devise methods of treatment. If not treated, it has been
      reported that suffers can go to extreme lengths to remove the unwanted limbs
      themselves. Some have even committed suicide.

      The difficulty with the condition is that the conventional methods for treating
      psychological problems, drugs and therapy, do not seem to be effective. The
      only treatment that does seem to be effective is surgery - actually removing
      the limb. The idea of using surgery is highly controversial and has divided the
      medical community. Some physicians consider it much too drastic a measure,
      possibly conflicting with their Hippocratic oath, not to cause harm. Others
      believe that it is the only way to free the patient of their obsession,
      'curing' them of their psychological problem.

      At the present time, there is only one surgeon in Britain who has been prepared
      to perform such operations and who has publicly defended his decision. He has
      operated on two patients, both of who claim to be delighted with their new
      body-image and now free to get on with the rest of their lives.

      There are many other patients who seek similar treatment. Horizon 'Complete
      Obsession' follows a year in the lives of people who are body dysmorphic and
      are determined to have their limbs surgically removed. It follows the process
      they go through to try and achieve their goal.

      View transcript:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/horizon/obsession_script.shtml
      Home Page
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/horizon/obsession.shtml
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