Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior: What Is It And How To Prevent The Condition

Here’s an insight into what BFRB actually is? It’s Symptoms, some common causes and when you should seek your doctor's advice. 

Charu Sharma
Mind BodyWritten by: Charu SharmaPublished at: Jul 06, 2021
Updated at: Jul 06, 2021
Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior: What Is It And How To Prevent The Condition

If you are someone with a constant urge of biting, peeling, picking and pulling that can cause damage then it could be more than just a bad habit. Often ignored in the name of bad habits these all can actually be the symptoms of the Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour also known as BFRBs. A person with body focused repetitive behaviour shares some of its symptoms with the obsessive-compulsive disorder which is a disorder characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears leading to compulsive behaviour. Let us go a little further and try to understand what actually BFRB is? It’s Symptoms, some common causes and when you should seek your doctor's advice. 

Onlymyhealth got in touch with Dr Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant, Mental Health & Psychiatry, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi to get to know this condition in detail. 

Also Read: 7 Morning Rituals With Kids To Improve Their Mental Health

What is BFRB?

Starting with the desire to eliminate the unwanted stimulus from the body, Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour is a set of repetitive behaviours like nail biting, lip biting, hair pulling and skin pinching. Almost 1 in every 20 people are said to suffer from this disorder with nail biting having the highest prevalence rate. As BFRB is related to sensory stimulation, anxiety issues and self-grooming it is caused due to significant levels of stress in the body. People suffering from this disorder have a few symptoms similar to that of the obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Here’s what Dr Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant, Mental Health & Psychiatry, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi has to say about it - 

“Any repetitive action is a part of obsessive compulsive disorder spectrum and as there is chemical imbalance due to the deficiency of seretante which results in forcing the brain to do repetitive actions that could be repetitive hand washing, repetitive checking of any part of the body, repetitive checking of your purse or anything like that comes under Body Focused Repetitive Behaviour. All this means that the person requires help and a mental health professional should be approached by that person for treatment which can either be given in the form of medication or counselling or both.”

Causes and Symptoms of BERB

Body-focused repetitive behavior starts with the desire to eliminate the unwanted stimulus from the body. A behavioral change due to some overwhelming emotions and negative thoughts, social isolation can be the common cause behind the progression of this order and then show symptoms like dermatillomania, onychophagia, morsicatio buccarum, morsicatio labiorum, morsicatio linguarum, onychotillomania, dermatophagia, rhinotillexomania, trichotillomania and trichophagia. Let us go a step ahead and see what these terms actually mean.

  • Dermatillomania: Also known as the excoriation disorder, dermatillomania is when a person can not help but pick those bumps, pimples and scabs on their own skins which can lead to significant disruption and abnormal growth in the part of a skin which is commonly known as skin lesions.
  • Onychophagia: The clinical name of nail biting onychophagia is the most common symptom of body-focused repetitive behavior and surprisingly people who do it are not even aware of it. This practice would not just damage your nails and skin but can also lead to dental infections.
  • Morsicatio Buccarum: The practice of biting inside the mouth due to stress and anxiety is known as morsicatio buccarum. This practice can lead to swelling and bumps inside your mouth. 
  • Morsicatio Labiorum: The urge to suck, bite or chew your inner lip is known as morsicatio labiorum. If practised overtime this can lead to yellow and whiye patches in your inner lips and make your skin cells slough off.
  • Morsicatio Linguarum: A condition where a person cannot help but bite the sides of their tongue as a response to the unwanted stimulations caused in the body. This condition of morsicatio linguarum is caused due to stress.
  • Onychotillomania: A body focused repetitive behavior where  a person has the constant urge to pick and pull the fingernails,  toenails and the skin around them. This practice leads to open sores and hanging nails which are capable of passing on the germs to your skin and mouth.
  • Dermatophagia: A condition triggered by tension which can be really scary as it makes a person not just bite but chew their fingernail and the skin around them. This can make your nails bleed and can be the cause of infection spreading in your body.
  • Rhinotillexomania: People with this symptom have a constant urge to pick their nose and they try to keep their nose clean as often as possible and can sometimes also spend hours doing this.
  • Trichotillomania: A mental disorder accompanied with hair pulling that can go to such an extent that people can actually start plucking hair from, their body, eyebrows and even their eyelashes. 
  • Trichophagia: Hair pulling followed by ingesting them in a body focused repetitive behaviour that can be categorised as trichophagia. Where people tend to swallow hair which can lead to the formation of large hairballs in their stomach.

Preventions Tips for Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior

There are various symptoms of the body-focused repetitive behavior which can actually harm an individual, although one should visit a doctor if the condition remains the same for a long period of time but here are some first aid preventive measures that you can follow at the ease of your home to avoid the risks and complications caused due to BFRB.

  • Use a fidget spinner to keep your hands busy so that it will diverge your attention and will keep you from picking your nails, skin and hair.
  • Keep your nails short and trimmed to avoid biting your nails and keep you safe from any kind of infection.
  • You can opt for a chewing gum to stop yourself from biting your lips, tongue and insides of your mouth. 
  • Wearing a lip bumper can be helpful in preventing lip biting.
  • You can take a stress ball and squeeze it whenever you feel stressed or get an urge to pick your hair or nails.
  • You can engage yourself in activities like cat's cradle, cross stitch, knitting and crochet.Talk to your doctor or therapist and ask what would suit you the best. 

When to seek doctor’s advice? 

Although some common symptoms such as nail biting and lip chewing are not so harmful and dangerous for a person and might go away in a few days, a patient needs to see a doctor when he/she has been practising these self harming activities on a regular basis or else this might lead to many further complications. According to doctor Vohra this can be treated by a mental health professional either by medication or by therapy or by a combination of both.

With inputs from DR. Sandeep Vohra, Senior Consultant, Mental Health & Psychiatry, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi

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