[Skip to Content]

What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder causes people to feel worried that parts of their body are flawed in some way. It’s related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

People with this mental health condition spend hours concerned that something is wrong with their looks. For example, they may see "flaws" that others wouldn't notice. These thoughts and worries take up time and drain energy. As a result, people often miss out on being with friends, going to school or work, or doing normal activities. This can make them feel alone, sad, or depressed. But with treatment, people with the condition can learn coping skills and feel less upset by negative thoughts.

What Causes Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

There’s still much to learn about the exact causes of body dysmorphic disorder. But experts believe these things play a role in causing it:

Genes. The disorder may be partly inherited, and tends to run in families.

Serotonin. The brain needs serotonin (a brain chemical linked to mood and energy) to work correctly. A low level of it helps explain why the disorder happens.

Brain differences. Studies have shown that some areas of the brain look and work differently in people with the disorder.

Body dysmorphic disorder isn’t caused by anything the person or a parent did. It’s not anyone’s fault.

What Are Signs & Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

People with body dysmorphic disorder:

Focus on their looks to an extreme. They find it hard to stop thinking about the parts of their looks that they dislike. They focus on specific things — like a pimple or the shape or look of their nose, eyes, lips, ears, teeth, or hands. They may seek out extreme treatments like plastic surgery.

Feel upset about their appearance. They feel worried, stressed, and anxious about their looks almost all the time. They may get angry and be easily irritated.

Check or fix their body part often. People with the disorder feel the strong need to check their appearance over and over. For example, they may look in a mirror, ask others how they look, or “fix” their appearance many times a day. 

Try not to be seen. Some people feel so bad about their looks that they don’t want to be seen. They may stay home; keep to themselves; or use makeup, hats, or clothes to cover up. They may also avoid looking in mirrors because it’s so stressful.

Have false ideas about their looks. Someone with body dysmorphic disorder doesn’t see their body as it really is or as others see it. The "flaws" they focus on are things that others can hardly notice. They exaggerate them, so things seem worse in their minds.

How Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder Diagnosed?

If your doctor thinks you have body dysmorphic disorder, you’ll likely need to see a mental health provider who understands it and can diagnose it. This person will ask questions and listen carefully to the answers to figure out if you have the disorder or something else.

How Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder Treated?

Body dysmorphic disorder treatment can include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This type of talk therapy helps you learn to manage worry, fear, and anxiety. CBT teaches you that what you think and do affects how you feel. You'll learn that when you face a fear, the fear gets weak and goes away. You'll find out how to change the way you see your body. Slowly, and with lots of support, you can focus less on flaws. You'll learn to stop checking and fixing your looks.

Medicines that help serotonin work well are used to treat body dysmorphic disorder. These are sometimes called SSRI medicines. They can help people obsess less about their looks and feel less distress. 

Most of the time, CBT and medicine are used together to treat body dysmorphic disorder.

What Else Should I Know About Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

It can be hard for people with body dysmorphic disorder to understand that it makes them see themselves in a false way. It takes time and effort for CBT and medicines to work, so be patient. Go to all your care visits, work hard in therapy, and don’t give up. Be honest and open with your mental health provider. Say if you feel depressed, and let others help you. 

Learn more about it. You can find more information about body dysmorphic disorder and support online at:

Medically reviewed by: Christina M. Cammarata, PhD
Date reviewed: May 2023