Body Dysmorphic Disorder – DSM5


Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Diagnostic Criteria 300.7 (F45.22)

A. Preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance that are not observable or appear slight to others.

B. At some point during the course of the disorder, the individual has performed repetitive behaviors (e.g., mirror checking, excessive grooming, skin picking, reassurance seeking) or mental acts (e.g., comparing his or her appearance with that of others) in response to the appearance concerns.

C. The preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

D. The appearance preoccupation is not better explained by concerns with body fat or weight in an individual whose symptoms meet diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder.

Specify if:

With muscle dysmorphia: The individual is preoccupied with the idea that his or her body build is too small or insufficiently muscular. This specifier is used even if the individual is preoccupied with other body areas, which is often the case.

Specify if:

Indicate degree of insight regarding body dysmorphic disorder beliefs (e.g., “I look ugly” or “I look deformed”).

With good or fair insight: The individual recognizes that the body dysmorphic disorder beliefs are definitely or probably not true or that they may or may not be true.

With poor insight: The individual thinks that the body dysmorphic disorder beliefs are probably true.

With absent insight/delusional beliefs: The individual is completely convinced that the body dysmorphic disorder beliefs are true.

Diagnostic Features

Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder (formerly known as dysmorphophobia) are preoccupied with one or more perceived defects or flaws in their physical appearance, which they believe look ugly, unattractive, abnormal, or deformed (Criterion A). The perceived flaws are not observable or appear only slight to other individuals. Concerns range from looking “unattractive” or “not right” to looking “hideous” or “like a monster.” Preoccupations can focus on one or many body areas, most commonly the skin (e.g., perceived acne, scars, lines, wrinkles, paleness), hair (e.g., “thinning” hair or “excessive” body or facial hair), or nose (e.g., size or shape). However, any body area can be the focus of concern (e.g., eyes, teeth, weight, stomach, breasts, legs, face size or shape, lips, chin, eyebrows, genitals). Some individuals are concerned about perceived asymmetry of body areas. The preoccupations are intrusive, unwanted, time-consuming (occurring, on average, 3-8 hours per day), and usually difficult to resist or control.

Excessive repetitive behaviors or mental acts (e.g., comparing) are performed in response to the preoccupation (Criterion B). The individual feels driven to perform these behaviors, which are not pleasurable and may increase anxiety and dysphoria. They are typically time-consuming and difficult to resist or control. Common behaviors are comparing one’s appearance with that of other individuals; repeatedly checking perceived defects in mirrors or other reflecting surfaces or examining them directly; excessively grooming (e.g., combing, styling, shaving, plucking, or pulling hair); camouflaging (e.g., repeatedly applying makeup or covering disliked areas with such things as a hat, clothing, makeup, or hair); seeking reassurance about how the perceived flaws look; touching disliked areas to check them; excessively exercising or weight lifting; and seeking cosmetic procedures. Some individuals excessively tan (e.g., to darken “pale” skin or diminish perceived acne), repeatedly change their clothes (e.g., to camouflage perceived defects), or compulsively shop (e.g., for beauty products). 

Compulsive skin picking intended to improve perceived skin defects is common and can cause skin damage, infections, or ruptured blood vessels. The preoccupation must cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (Criterion C); usually both are present. 

Body dysmorhic disorder must be differentiated from an eating disorder.Muscle dysmorphia, a form of body dysmorhic disorder occurring almost exclusively in males, consists of preoccupation with the idea that one’s body is too small or insufficiently lean or muscular. Individuals with this form of the disorder actually have a normal-looking body or are even very muscular. They may also be preoccupied with other body areas, such as skin or hair. 

A majority (but not all) diet, exercise, and/or lift weights excessively, sometimes causing bodily damage. Some use potentially dangerous anabolic androgenic steroids and other substances to try to make their body bigger and more muscular. Body dysmorphic disorder by proxy is a form of body dysmorphic disorder in which individuals are preoccupied with defects they perceive in another person’s appearance.

Insight regarding body dysmorphic disorder beliefs can range from good to absent/ delusional (i.e., delusional beliefs consisting of complete conviction that the individual’s view of their appearance is accurate and undistorted). 

On average, insight is poor; one- third or more of individuals currently have delusional body dysmorphic disorder beliefs. Individuals with delusional body dysmorphic disorder tend to have greater morbidity in some areas (e.g., suicidality), but this appears accounted for by their tendency to have more severe body dysmorphic disorder symptoms.

Associated Features Supporting Diagnosis

Many individuals with body dysmorphic disorder have ideas or delusions of reference, believing that other people take special notice of them or mock them because of how they look. Body dysmorphic disorder is associated with high levels of anxiety, social anxiety, social avoidance, depressed mood, neuroticism, and perfectionism as well as low extroversion and low self-esteem. Many individuals are ashamed of their appearance and their excessive focus on how they look, and are reluctant to reveal their concerns to others. A majority of individuals receive cosmetic treatment to try to improve their perceived defects. Dermatological treatment and surgery are most common, but any type (e.g., dental, electrolysis) may be received. Occasionally, individuals may perform surgery on themselves. Body dysmorphic disorder appears to respond poorly to such treatments and sometimes becomes worse. Some individuals take legal action or are violent toward the clinician because they are dissatisfied with the cosmetic outcome.

Body dysmorphic disorder has been associated with executive dysfunction and visual processing abnormalities, with a bias for analyzing and encoding details rather than holistic or configurai aspects of visual stimuli. Individuals with this disorder tend to have a bias for negative and threatening interpretations of facial expressions and ambiguous scenarios.


The point prevalence among U.S. adults is 2.4% (2.5% in females and 2.2% in males). Outside the United States (i.e., Germany), current prevalence is approximately 1.7%-1,8%, with a gender distribution similar to that in the United States. The current prevalence is 9%-15% among dermatology patients, 7%-8% among U.S. cosmetic surgery patients, 3%- 16% among international cosmetic surgery patients (most studies), 8% among adult orthodontia patients, and 10% among patients presenting for oral or maxillofacial surgery.

Development and Course

The mean age at disorder onset is 16-17 years, the median age at onset is 15 years, and the most common age at onset is 12-13 years. Two-thirds of individuals have disorder onset before age 18. Subclinical body dysmorphic disorder symptoms begin, on average, at age 12 or 13 years. Subclinical concerns usually evolve gradually to the full disorder, although some individuals experience abrupt onset of body dysmorphic disorder. The disorder appears to usually be chronic, although improvement is likely when evidence-based treatment is received. The disorder’s clinical features appear largely similar in children/ adolescents and adults. Body dysmorhic disorder occurs in the elderly, but little is known about the disorder in this age group. Individuals with disorder onset before age 18 years are more likely to attempt suicide, have more comorbidity, and have gradual (rather than acute) disorder onset than those with adult-onset body dysmorphic disorder.


The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. DSM contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders. It provides a common language for clinicians to communicate about their patients and establishes consistent and reliable diagnoses that can be used in the research of mental disorders. It also provides a common language for researchers to study the criteria for potential future revisions and to aid in the development of medications and other interventions.

Artwork by: Toby Allen