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Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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KEY POINTS

  • Body dysmorphic disorder causes your child to dislike something about the way he or she looks and think about it all the time. Often the flaw that your child worries about is not real, or it is something that others do not notice or think of as very minor.
  • Treatment may include cognitive-behavioral therapy or medicine. With professional help, your child may feel less anxious, depressed, and preoccupied with how he or she looks.

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What is body dysmorphic disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) causes your child to dislike something about the way he or she looks and thinks about it all the time. Your child may get to the point where it is very hard to go outside or even talk to others without thinking about things that your child thinks of as flaws. For example, your child may worry all the time that his or her chest is too small, nose is too long, or muscles are too small. These thoughts about a seeming flaw are distorted. Often the flaw that your child worries about is not real, or it is something that others do not notice or think of as very minor.

BDD is different from eating disorders. Children and teens with BDD may or may not be concerned about weight or body size. Instead, they feel that they have extremely ugly flaws of the face, hair, skin, or some other body part.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of the disorder is not known. Possible causes include:

  • The brain makes chemicals that affect thoughts, emotions, and actions. Without the right balance of these chemicals, there may be problems with the way your child thinks, feels, or acts. People with this disorder may have too little or too much of some of these chemicals.
  • Someone whose family has a history of obsessive-compulsive, depression, or anxiety disorders is more likely to develop BDD. Families with very high expectations may be at higher risk for BDD.
  • Neglect, abuse, or being bullied may increase the risk for BDD.

BDD most often starts in the teen years and may continue throughout adulthood. It may start gradually or suddenly. Both boys and girls can have BDD.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms that your child may have include:

  • Always comparing his or her body to how other people look
  • Constantly trying to cover or hide the area that your child thinks is flawed
  • Feeling nervous and self-conscious or avoiding other people
  • Thinking that other people are looking at your child and talking about your child and his or her flaws
  • Often touching, measuring, or looking at the area that your child thinks is flawed, or completely avoiding mirrors or touching the area
  • Checking with other people to see if they think the flaw is as ugly as your child thinks it is
  • Constantly thinking about the flaw and that it makes your child ugly
  • Skin picking and excessive grooming
  • Wanting surgery or treatment that isn't needed

Children and teens with BDD may also be anxious, depressed, or even suicidal because of always focusing on the area that your child thinks is flawed. Along with BDD, your child may have other problems such as:

  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Substance abuse

How is it diagnosed?

Your child’s healthcare provider or therapist will ask about your child's symptoms. Your child’s provider will make sure your child does not have a medical illness or drug or alcohol problem that could cause the symptoms.

How is it treated?

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a good way to help your child identify and change views your child has of self, the world, and the future. CBT can make your child aware of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can also help your child learn new thought and behavior patterns even after your child stops going to therapy. The therapist also helps your child resist compulsive behaviors such as mirror checking. It can help your child learn to manage stress and improve self-esteem. Other types of therapy do not appear to be very effective in treating BDD.

No medicine specifically treats BDD. Medicines may be prescribed to help your child feel less anxious, depressed, and preoccupied with the seeming flaws.

What can I do to help my child?

  • Support your child. Encourage your child to talk about whatever your child wants to talk about. Be a good listener. This helps your child realize that feelings and thoughts really do matter, that you truly care about your child, and that you never stopped caring. If your child shuts you out, don't walk away. Let your child know that you are there whenever your child needs you. Remind your child of this over and over again. Even children raised in a loving and nurturing home need to hear it a lot because they may feel unworthy of love and attention for other reasons.
  • Don’t criticize or tease your child about the way your child looks. Praise your child for all efforts. Also, point out to your child that you appreciate other people for what they do rather than how they look.
  • Help your child learn to manage stress. Teach children to practice deep breathing or other relaxation techniques when feeling stressed. Help your child find ways to relax such as taking up a hobby, listening to music, watching movies, or taking walks.
  • Take care of your child’s physical health. Make sure your child eats a variety of healthy foods and gets the right amount of sleep and physical activity every day. Teach children to avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and drugs.
  • Help your child avoid TV programs, movies, magazines, or websites that emphasize being thin instead of being healthy. Teach your older child to question advertisements or articles that make your child feel bad about body shape or size. Explain that the advertisers may be trying to sell something, what they say may not be true, pictures can be air-brushed, and computer generated images can make a person look perfect.
  • Understand that plastic surgery usually does not help. Your child may get addicted to plastic surgery because your child can never be satisfied with the way your child looks.
  • Check your child’s medicines. Tell all healthcare providers who treat your child about all medicines the child takes.
  • Contact your child’s healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your child’s symptoms seem to be getting worse.

Ask if your child is feeling suicidal or has done anything to hurt himself or herself. Get emergency care if your child has ideas of suicide or harming others or harming self.

Developed by Change Healthcare.
Pediatric Advisor 2019.4 published by Change Healthcare.
Last modified: 2019-09-20
Last reviewed: 2019-08-12
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2018 Change Healthcare LLC and/or one of its subsidiaries
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