Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health condition that disrupts how you see and feel about your own body and appearance. People commonly experience negative thoughts and emotions about how they look, which can cause severe disruptions in their life and undermine their mental and physical well-being.
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition that causes you to view your own physical appearance unfairly. The thoughts and feelings related to your appearance can consume you and affect your thoughts and actions. Eventually, BDD can negatively impact your quality of life and how you feel about yourself.
While everyone’s body has unique characteristics and differences, BDD means you believe one or more of your body’s characteristics are flaws. That belief compels you to spend significant amounts of time focusing on or trying to change what you think is wrong with you.
IMPORTANT: Body dysmorphic disorder is a condition that has a high risk of self-harming or suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Get immediate help if you have thoughts about harming yourself or others, or if you suspect someone you know is in danger of harming themselves.
If you have suicidal thoughts or behavior, dial 988 on your phone to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
These are different names for the same condition. Body dysmorphic disorder is the condition’s technical name, but “body dysmorphia” is more widely known.
Experts estimate that BDD affects about 2.4% of adults in the U.S. overall. It affects about 2.5% of women and people assigned female at birth and about 2.2% of men and people assigned male at birth. Outside the U.S., it affects between 1.7% and 2.9% of people.
BDD is most likely to start in your teens or early adult years. People usually develop BDD around 12 or 13 years old. Two-thirds of people with BDD develop it before age 18. However, BDD can also start in adulthood.
BDD affects how you see yourself and feel about your appearance, and its symptoms can take many forms. Some of the most common include (but aren’t limited to):
Muscle dysmorphia is a specific form of BDD. It can cause you to have negative feelings about your build and the appearance of your muscles (either for your entire body or one or more specific places on your body).
People with BDD can have varying levels of insight into their condition. Having insight into the condition means they know their thinking isn’t logical or realistic. However, insight doesn’t stop the effects of the condition. Healthcare providers diagnosing this condition still take insight into account, as it can affect the treatment approaches for BDD.
There are three main levels of insight:
Experts don’t fully understand how or why BDD happens, but they suspect it involves multiple factors, including:
People who have BDD are more likely to have certain other mental health conditions, including:
There aren’t any medical tests that can diagnose BDD. A mental health provider (such as a psychologist or psychiatrist) can diagnose BDD by talking to you about your symptoms, thinking and behavior patterns, lifestyle and more. Diagnosing BDD involves using screening tools — specially designed questionnaires or checklists — that help determine if you fit the criteria for this condition.
Most people with BDD don’t get a diagnosis until 10 to 15 years after the symptoms become serious enough to meet the criteria for diagnosis. That’s partly because they don’t realize the thoughts and feelings they experience are signs of a mental health condition or because they’re ashamed or afraid to ask for help.
This means it’s important to talk about BDD if you notice signs of it in yourself or a loved one. Talking about the signs of this condition and getting help with it before it reaches severe levels can help you or a loved one avoid its most severe effects.
BDD isn’t curable, but it’s treatable. Like many mental health conditions, treating BDD often involves a combination of approaches, including:
Several different medications can help treat BDD. The side effects can vary, so ask your healthcare provider about the complications or side effects you might experience.
Experts don’t fully understand why body dysmorphic disorder happens. That means there’s no way to prevent it or reduce the risk of it happening.
BDD’s effects tend to be mild at first and worsen over time. The negative thoughts and feelings about your body will influence your thought processes and behaviors. As they become more intense, you’re more likely to feel more and more distressed about your appearance. They may also start to affect or change your life, making it difficult to study, work or spend time with others socially.
BDD usually becomes more severe the longer it goes untreated. That’s why it’s important to get a diagnosis and treatment for body dysmorphic disorder as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment may stop BDD’s symptoms and effects from worsening.
BDD is treatable and it’s often possible to manage it. Unfortunately, it isn’t curable and doesn’t go away on its own. Once it develops, it’s a lifelong condition.
Receiving treatment for BDD can also cause you to experience a kind of remission, meaning your symptoms fade, weaken or even go away entirely. While it’s possible to have a relapse where symptoms return, flare up or become more severe, effective treatment can help you manage BDD, limiting its effects on your life.
BDD is a treatable condition. Research estimates that between 50% and 80% of people treated with medication experience fewer or less severe symptoms and are less likely to experience relapses where symptoms return or become more severe again.
Experts strongly recommend combining medication treatments with psychotherapy. That’s because psychotherapy can help you develop thinking and coping strategies that counter the thoughts and feelings you experience with BDD.
Without treatment, body dysmorphic disorder has the potential to disrupt your life severely. Self-harm or suicide are also more common among people living with untreated BDD. Up to 80% of people with BDD have suicidal thoughts, and 1 in 4 people with BDD attempt suicide. People with BDD are also 45 times more likely to die by suicide than people without it. Because of this, early diagnosis and treatment — especially in people who develop BDD before age 18 — are critical.
If you have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), there are several things you can do to help yourself:
People who have BDD may not have the ability to understand that they have it. When that’s the case, they may resist efforts to get them to seek medical care. If a loved one shows symptoms of BDD, you can do the following:
There are many resources available that can guide you on how to help a loved one who might have BDD. Taking the time to learn more about these organizations and the condition itself can better prepare you to support your loved one.
There are some areas of the body that people experience negative thoughts or feelings about when they have BDD. Common areas include their:
People are more likely to experience BDD about specific parts of their body based on their sex or affirmed gender, including:
Yes, BDD and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are related conditions. OCD and its related conditions form an entire class of mental health conditions, and BDD is part of that class. Many people have OCD and BDD at the same time.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) affects how you see yourself, causing you to judge yourself unfairly or harshly. If you have this condition, you may feel there’s something wrong with how you look. That can make you feel anxious, scared or depressed or that you need to change or fix how you look.
However, BDD is a health condition that disrupts your ability to see yourself as you truly are. With treatment, it’s possible to counter negative thoughts and feelings. That way, you can keep negative thoughts and emotions from changing the way you live your life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/11/2023.
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