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Body dysmorphic disorder

4-minute read

What is body dysmorphic disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder is a common mental illness that leads people to become obsessed with parts of their bodies and how they appear to other people.

The face and facial features — such as the size and shape of the nose, lips or ears, or the skin or complexion — are the most common cause of worry for people with body dysmorphic disorder.

But any body part — including the arms and legs, buttocks and hair — can become the focus.

If you have body dysmorphic disorder, you feel a part of your body is unusual or deformed, so that you feel ashamed, distressed or depressed.

These feelings may affect your wellbeing and prevent you from living a normal life.

What are the symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder?

Symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder include a person:

  • strongly (but incorrectly) believing they have a physical defect that makes them ugly
  • frequently checking their appearance in mirrors, or avoiding mirrors
  • wearing a lot of make-up or growing a beard as cover
  • spending a lot of time grooming
  • constantly comparing their appearance to others
  • severely limiting their food intake
  • exercising excessively
  • undergoing cosmetic surgery, taking medication or exercising excessively to change their body
  • compulsively picking at their skin
  • frequently touching parts of the body they don’t like
  • inflicting self-harm
  • avoiding going out or being with other people

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the mental health Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes body dysmorphic disorder?

It is not fully understood what causes body dysmorphic disorder. Genetics may play a part, but so might factors, such as:

Some people with body dysmorphic disorder also have mental illness in their family.

How is body dysmorphic disorder diagnosed?

If you think you may have body dysmorphic disorder, you should talk to your doctor.

Your doctor will probably ask questions to confirm your condition and how serious it is, and talk about whether you should seek help from a psychologist or other specialist.

You should try to talk honestly about your feelings to help your doctor diagnose your illness and work out the best treatment.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is body dysmorphic disorder treated?

Body dysmorphic disorder is difficult to treat without professional help. It doesn’t usually get better on its own and can get worse.

Medication or psychotherapy can often help treat body dysmorphic disorder, so talk to your doctor if you think you have the condition.

A psychologist may suggest cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Physical activity and exercise can help manage depression, stress and anxiety.

Complications of body dysmorphic disorder

People with body dysmorphic disorder often stay at home, avoid social situations and miss work or school because of their feelings about their body.

Many people who have the disorder also have or develop obsessive compulsive disorder or an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa.

Some become so anxious or depressed that they use drugs, have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide.

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Last reviewed: August 2019

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