How to Recognize and Treat Body Dysmorphic Disorder

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder? 

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition. A person with BDD finds it hard to stop thinking about one or more perceived flaws or defects in their appearance. These flaws may be so small and minor that others cannot even see them. These flaws or defects may cause anxiety, embarrassment, and stress. People with BDD may find it hard to focus on things other than their appearance. 

Who is affected by Body Dysmorphic Disorder? 

Body Dysmorphic Disorder typically starts in the teenage years and is seen in both males and females. There are no known causes of BDD, but there are several factors that may contribute to having BDD, which include: 

  • Family History – Someone in the family was diagnosed with BDD. 
  • Stress – Experiencing a stressful, traumatizing, or negative situation involving one’s body image or appearance. 
  • Societal/Family Pressure Being in an environment that puts pressure on someone to look, act, or behave in a certain way; Pressure to look beautiful or have a specific appearance. 
  • Other conditions – People with BDD may have other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression. 

How do I know if I have BDD? 

Symptoms of BDD 

Symptoms of BDD include: 

  • Extremely concerned or obsessed with a particular part of the body. 
  • Constantly checking the mirror, grooming, or trying to fix appearance. 
  • A strong belief that something is wrong with your appearance. 
  • Avoid social situations because of your belief about your appearance. 
  • Be self-conscious or anxious around others.
  • Getting cosmetic procedures done with little to no satisfaction and constantly going back to try to fix more. 
  • Experiencing problems in relationships, work, school, etc. as a result of focusing so much on your appearance.
Areas of Concern 

The most common areas of concern for someone suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder include: 

Girl concerned about the look of her face
  • Skin imperfections, such as acne, wrinkles, scars, blemishes, veins. 
  • Facial features; The most common is the nose. 
  • Stomach or chest area. 
  • Breast size. 
  • Hair; Both body hair and on the head, including baldness. 
  • Penis size 
  • Muscles 
  • Most times, these areas of concern are not easily noticeable to others. Flaws may be so small and minor that others cannot even see them.
Other conditions associated with BDD 

A person with Body Dysmorphic Disorder may also have other conditions and disorders. It is not uncommon to be diagnosed with: anxiety disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or an eating disorder. 

  • Anxiety: Someone with BDD may be overly anxious or stressed about their appearance, especially in social situations. This anxiety may hurt them socially, in relationships, at work, or in school. 
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Body Dysmorphic Disorder is related to OCD. Someone with BDD becomes so focused on their appearance that they cannot control their negative or upsetting thoughts, which are called “obsessions”. These obsessions usually lead to “compulsions” where the person will feel the need to do certain activities or routines. A person suffering from BDD will groom, pick skin, fix their hair, and look in the mirror constantly. 
  • Eating Disorders: People with BDD may experience symptoms very similar to an eating disorder. People with BDD and people with an eating disorder are both concerned about their body image. With BDD, the person is more concerned about their appearance or a specific body part. With an eating disorder, the person is more concerned about their body weight or shape. 

Diagnosis for Body Dysmorphic Disorder

BDD can be hard to diagnose because people with BDD usually feel a sense of shame, anxiety, or embarrassment associated with their flaws or appearance. This may lead to many people with BDD going undiagnosed since they do not want to share their feelings with a doctor or mental health professional. 

Those who receive a diagnosis usually see positive results since treatments and support can help someone suffering from BDD. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, a diagnosis for BDD will typically include: 

  • A psychological evaluation that assesses risk factors and thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to negative self-image 
  • Personal, social, family, and medical history 
  • Symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association 

A person with Body Dysmorphic Disorder does not get better on their own. Symptoms can get worse if left untreated or undiagnosed. 

How do I treat Body Dysmorphic Disorder? 

BDD is usually treated with some form of psychotherapy, group therapy, and/or medication, most commonly in the form of anti-depressants 

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 
  • CBT focuses on changing the patient’s thoughts, behaviors, and reactions associated with BDD.
  • Family/Group Therapy 
  • Family or group support is important when trying to treat BDD. Family and friends can learn more about the signs and symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. 
  • Medication 
  • Although medication does not cure Body Dysmorphic Disorder, it can help treat and lessen symptoms. Medications used to treat BDD most commonly include anti-depressants. Other medications may be used, as well.
Woman with BDD talking with doctor

Everyone reacts differently to different medications and treatment options, and it may take time to find the right fit. Always listen to the doctor’s suggestions.   


If interested in learning more about Body Dysmorphic Disorder and ways to help treat it, you can read the Centre for Clinical Intervention’s website and resources on BDD.