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Female muscular dysmorphia: symptoms, causes and effects in women

Muscle dysmorphia is a disorder that was originally described by Harrison Pope in 1993 and is mainly characterized by an obsession with winning continuously. greater amount of muscle mass, having a distortion of their own body image so that the person tends to look less developed at the muscular level than they really are this.

There is a higher prevalence of muscle dysmorphia in men; however, female muscular dysmorphia has been increasing notably in recent years. It should be noted that the symptoms of female muscle dysmorphia are very similar to those in men.

In this article we will explain in more detail what is female muscular dysmorphia, but first we will give some data regarding this disorder that it is convenient to know previously.

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What is muscle dysmorphia?

muscle dysmorphia It has been diagnosed predominantly in men, with 80% of cases; however, there are studies that have found that in recent years there has been a notable increase in the number of cases of female muscular dysmorphia, being a disorder that tends to begin to appear between the ages of 18 and 35, although more and more cases are occurring at older ages. precocious, to which is added the problem of the high risk that there is of the consumption or abuse of steroids or anabolic substances in people who suffer from this disorder.

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Muscle dysmorphia, also frequently referred to as "vigorexia", inverse anorexia or Adonis complex, is a psychopathology whose diagnosis has given rise to some ambiguities when making a classification due to its relationship with the Eating disorder (ACT), the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and also with disorders related to a distortion of one's own body image.

However, in the diagnostic manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) muscle dysmorphia is classified within obsessive-compulsive disorders; more specifically, as a specifier for body dysmorphic disorder.

Muscle dysmorphia or vigorexia is a disorder that consists of obsession with continuously gaining more muscle mass, without ever being satisfied with the results obtained because they have a perception regarding their own body image that is not corresponds to reality, and this is because these people do not look muscular enough despite having large muscles. size.

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What is female muscular dysmorphia?

As we have mentioned before, female muscular dysmorphia, despite being less prevalent than male, it has been increasing in terms of the number of cases in recent years, so in 2015 Amador Cernuda carried out an investigation on the matter with 1,115 women, aged between the ages of 17 and 61, who performed physical exercise in important gyms in 7 communities Autonomous of Spain.

These women had to answer a survey related to muscle dysmorphia and body image, as well as the "Questionnaire of Adonis Complex”, which consists of 13 questions and was developed by Harrison Pope and his collaborators to assess whether a person suffered from dysmorphia muscular. In addition, Pope has probably been the most recognized researcher in the field of research on muscle dysmorphia and is also the one who coined the terms vigorexia or inverse anorexia.

The results of the study were quite surprising, since it was found that 123 women, which represents 11.03% of the total sample, fit within a diagnosis of female muscular dysmorphia, since had shown a pathological preoccupation with their body image and they also acknowledged having come to consume anabolic substances with the aim of increasing their muscle mass to try to achieve their goal on a physical and aesthetic level.

On the other hand, 28.15% of that total sample of those investigated, came to show, although to a lesser extent than the previous ones, a serious concern about their body image, without meeting all the criteria for the diagnosis of muscle dysmorphia although they were in risk of developing this psychopathology or one related to body image, such as an eating disorder (eg. g., anorexia).

It should also be noted that 71% of that population that participated in the study stated that they were not happy with their abdomen and 67% of the people studied said they did not feel satisfied with the appearance of their buttocks for various reasons. reasons. Another interesting fact is that 53% of all those investigated were aware of the existence of trafficking in anabolic substances in the world of fitness and bodybuilding.

female vigorexia
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Explanatory model of muscle dysmorphia

Here we will explain a series of factors influencing the development of female muscle dysmorphia, being similar to those that influence the case of men, serving as an orientation scheme, since for to make a complete diagnosis it would be necessary to carry out a more exhaustive evaluation that would allow each case to be analyzed individual.

1. Predisposing factors

Research has found that the most frequent predisposing factors in cases of muscle dysmorphia are a certain influence of genetic predisposition, a number of factors socio-environmental, have certain addictive and compulsive tendencies or having experienced a series of negative experiences in the past regarding their own body image, among others.

These factors, in combination, when combined with some triggers, such as those that mentioned below, increase the chances of developing muscle dysmorphia or vigorexia.

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2. Triggers

The triggering factors are those that can act as a trigger in those people who previously had a predisposition for the development of this disorder. Among these factors it is worth mentioning the fact of having suffered a highly traumatic, hurtful or stressful experience that was caused by their own body image, so an obsession with improving one's physical appearance could be triggered and one way to do so could be the search for constant body mass increase.

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3. Maintaining factors

These factors would be those that will reinforce the maintenance of female muscular dysmorphia in time when it has already been triggered. The maintaining factors, in addition to maintaining muscle dysmorphia, also could accentuate associated symptoms, such as the obsession with gaining more muscle mass or distortion with respect to one's own body image.

Among the maintaining factors, it is worth highlighting social reinforcement in the form of praise from other people who admire the remarkably muscular bodies, which encourages the person to continue increasing their musculature. Social networks can play an important role here, as well as within the triggers.

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Harmful factors of female muscular dysmorphia

In the investigations carried out on female and also male muscular dysmorphia, various risks that could be suffered by people who pushed the limits in order to continue gaining muscle mass.

On a psychological level, muscle dysmorphia has been shown to have serious repercussions in terms of feelings of irritability, fits of anger, somewhat sudden emotional changes, hostility, symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as too an increased predisposition to steroid use in order to increase muscle mass, which could eventually cause a withdrawal syndrome if its consumption were to be interrupted after a prolonged time resorting to this type of substances.

In the most extreme cases, in which the use or abuse of anabolic steroids had been resorted to, both the women like men, could suffer serious cardiovascular, liver or kidney problems, among others.

On the other hand, in cases of female muscular dysmorphia with steroid abuse over a long period of time, it has been found that some women may suffer from gynecomastia (also men), develop a hoarser voice, decreased noticeable increase in body percentage and breast size, hair growth (hirsutism) and even cases of hair loss and an increase in size have been found clitoris.

On a physical level, it has also been seen that female muscular dysmorphia, like the male, taken to the extreme in the long term they can cause bone and joint problems, muscle letter openers, greater propensity to injuries and a notable loss of agility.

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Pope and his collaborators conducted an investigation with people who performed anachronistic training (lifting weights) in the gym, having investigated with muscular dysmorphia and also people who did not suffer this disorder. The results showed a high comorbidity of muscle dysmorphia with other pathologies at the psychological level as we will see below, being notably higher than in those cases in which the people did not have muscle dysmorphia.

In these cases, no distinction was made between female and male muscle dysmorphia cases, but instead an assessment was made regarding the dichotomy between having or not having this disorder regardless of gender, so these comorbidities could be quite similar in both the cases of women and men. mens.

It was verified that in 58% of the cases of vigorexia or muscular dysmorphia they presented depressive symptoms, compared to 20% found in cases in which muscle dysmorphia was not present; 29% of the cases with vigorexia presented comorbidity with anxiety disorders, compared to 3% in people without this disorder; and 29% comorbidity between vigorexia and TCAs, compared to 7% comorbidity in subjects who did not suffer from muscle dysmorphia or vigorexia.

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