Clinical summary guide

Body dysmorphic disorder

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The GP’s role

General practitioners have a role in identifying body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in patients, referral to psychologists or other medical specialists, and assisting patients to understand and manage the disorder.


Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is characterised by a debilitating preoccupation with a perceived defect in one’s own physical appearance. The physical attribute of concern may be non-existent or so minor as to be unnoticeable by others.

Behavioural characteristics of BDD – such as constantly checking one’s appearance, repeated attempts at correcting the perceived disorder, or excessive exercising – can limit daily function.

Muscle dysmorphia is a form of BDD characterised by a perceived lack of muscularity. Excessive exercise and specific dietary patterns are common behavioural consequences of muscle dysmorphia. Misuse or abuse of androgenic steroids appears common in males with muscle dysmorphia.

Males are more likely than females to have genital manifestations of BDD.

Body dysmorphic disorder is distinct from gender dysphoria, although both may occur in individuals.


Approximately 1 in 50 (2%) adults has body dysmorphic disorder. The disorder most commonly manifests in adolescence, with subclinical symptoms occurring for years before diagnosis. There is no gender difference in the prevalence of BDD but muscle dysmorphia occurs much more often in males.


Body dysmorphic disorder is likely due to genetic, psychosocial, and cultural factors. BDD is more likely than usual to occur in people who:

Use of social media, especially image sharing services (e.g. Snapchat, Instagram), is associated with concern about body image but there is no high quality evidence linking social media use and formal diagnosis of BDD.


Body dysmorphic disorder is a chronic condition, so it can persist throughout adulthood, and its influence on adolescent social and emotional development may have long term functional consequences5. However, treatment can lessen the symptom severity and the negative functional impact of BDD.

In males, body dysmorphic disorder often accompanies depression, social and generalised anxiety, emotional and behavioural difficulties, problems with peer relationships, hyperactivity, drive for masculinity and quality of life.

Occurrence of these common comorbidities during adolescence can have lasting deleterious effects on social functioning, romantic relationships, and educational and vocational achievements.

People with BDD are more likely to have suicidal thoughts or behaviours than people without the disorder, with increasing severity and presence of comorbidities related to increasing risk.

Screening and diagnosis

People with BDD may lack insight into their disorder, making them unlikely to seek direct help for the condition.

Some behaviours that accompany muscle dysmorphia, such as adherence to exercise routines and avoidance of unhealthy foods, can be misinterpreted as beneficial and positively reinforced.

Only a minority of people with BDD are diagnosed.

Body dysmorphic disorder occurs with muscle dysmorphia if there is a belief of insufficient muscularity or small build (with or without preoccupations about other body regions).

Insight into BDD is considered absent for people who are convinced their body dysmorphia beliefs are true, or poor for people who think the beliefs might be true.

Good or fair insight into BDD is attributed to people who consider their body dysmorphic beliefs to be definitely or probably false, or may or may not be true.


Psychological and psychopharmacological treatment of BDD can moderate symptoms and improve functionality, but only a minority of people with the disorder receive therapy.

Barriers to treatment include shame and stigma, a perception that psychological and psychiatric treatments are ineffective, and denial of the disorder (and, hence, failure to seek treatment).

Many people with BDD seek cosmetic treatments to fix the perceived physical defect, but such procedures generally have poor outcomes and should be discouraged.

People with BDD should be counselled about the likely futility of pursuing cosmetic outcomes, and the associated distress and cost that can arise.

People with BDD who seek referral for cosmetic procedures would likely be better served by discussion aimed at providing an understanding of the underlying psychological problem, and highlighting the benefit of appropriate treatment.

Cognitive behavioural therapy for BDD commonly consists of exposure with response prevention, over a period of 3-6 months, and seems effective at reducing symptom severity for some time; however, longer-term monitoring is recommended to detect symptom severity and relapse. Telehealth and internet-based therapy shows promise in treating BDD.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may take weeks-to-months to be effective for BDD, and are usually needed in a higher dose than for treatment of depression.

In cases where SSRIs are ineffective, the tricyclic antidepressant clomipramine may be used, or alternatively, off-label use of some antipsychotics may be considered.

Clinical review

Dr Scott Griffiths, University of Melbourne; Members of Healthy Male’s Nursing and Allied Health Advisory Group; Members of Healthy Male’s General Practice Advisory Group

Body dysmorphic disorder

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