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Body dysmorphic disorder

3-minute read

Body dysmorphic disorder leads people to become obsessed with parts of their bodies and how they appear to other people.

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.

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

What is body dysmorphic disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder is a common mental illness.

People with body dysmorphic disorder can feel emotions such as shame or disgust concerning a part or parts of their body and how they imagine 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.

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 (OCD) or an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa.

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

Causes of 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.

Body dysmorphic disorder symptoms

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 related to their false beliefs
  • compulsively picking at their skin
  • inflicting self-harm.

Diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder

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.

A physical exam and lab tests may help diagnose body dysmorphic disorder or other conditions.

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

You can use the Question Builder tool to create your question list for the appointment. Prepare your list, then print or email it so you remember what you want to ask.

Treatment of body dysmorphic disorder

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 working with a psychologist, or both, can help.

A psychologist may suggest cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

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

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Last reviewed: August 2017

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