Body dysmorphic disorder: the distress of imagined ugliness

K A Phillips
American Journal of Psychiatry 1991, 148 (9): 1138-49

OBJECTIVE: Body dysmorphic disorder, a preoccupation with an imagined defect in physical appearance, has a rich tradition in European psychiatry but has been largely neglected in the United States. Because this little-known disorder is probably more common than is generally realized and can have profound consequences, the author reviews its history, clinical features, and possible relationship to other psychiatric disorders.

DATA COLLECTION: Data sources consisted of the MEDLINE database and relevant references in articles obtained from this search. Of 145 articles and books obtained, 100 were selected for inclusion in this review on the basis of how closely they conformed to the concept of body dysmorphic disorder as defined in DSM-III-R and how substantially they contributed to an understanding of the disorder's history, clinical features, or nosologic status.

FINDINGS: Body dysmorphic disorder has been colorfully described in the European literature for more than a century. Although its concerns might sound trivial, this disorder can lead to social isolation (including being housebound), occupational dysfunction, unnecessary cosmetic surgery, and suicide. The most commonly associated psychiatric disorder appears to be depression. Although a definitive treatment does not exist, preliminary evidence suggests that serotonergic antidepressant medications may be useful. Whether body dysmorphic disorder is related to other psychiatric disorders, such as psychosis, mood disorder, social phobia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, is unclear at this time.

CONCLUSIONS: More research on the nosology, clinical features, and treatment response of body dysmorphic disorder is important, given the distress and impairment this often secret disorder can cause.

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