Age at onset and clinical correlates in body dysmorphic disorder

Compr Psychiatry. 2013 Oct;54(7):893-903. doi: 10.1016/j.comppsych.2013.03.019. Epub 2013 Apr 30.


Objective: Age at onset is an important clinical feature of all disorders. However, no prior studies have focused on this important construct in body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). In addition, across a number of psychiatric disorders, early age at disorder onset is associated with greater illness severity and greater comorbidity with other disorders. However, clinical correlates of age at onset have not been previously studied in BDD.

Methods: Age at onset and other variables of interest were assessed in two samples of adults with DSM-IV BDD; sample 1 consisted of 184 adult participants in a study of the course of BDD, and sample 2 consisted of 244 adults seeking consultation or treatment for BDD. Reliable and valid measures were used. Subjects with early-onset BDD (age 17 or younger) were compared to those with late-onset BDD.

Results: BDD had a mean age at onset of 16.7 (SD=7.3) in sample 1 and 16.7 (SD=7.2) in sample 2. 66.3% of subjects in sample 1 and 67.2% in sample 2 had BDD onset before age 18. A higher proportion of females had early-onset BDD in sample 1 but not in sample 2. On one of three measures in sample 1, those with early-onset BDD currently had more severe BDD symptoms. Individuals with early-onset BDD were more likely to have attempted suicide in both samples and to have attempted suicide due to BDD in sample 2. Early age at BDD onset was associated with a history of physical violence due to BDD and psychiatric hospitalization in sample 2. Those with early-onset BDD were more likely to report a gradual onset of BDD than those with late-onset in both samples. Participants with early-onset BDD had a greater number of lifetime comorbid disorders on both Axis I and Axis II in sample 1 but not in sample 2. More specifically, those with early-onset BDD were more likely to have a lifetime eating disorder (anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa) in both samples, a lifetime substance use disorder (both alcohol and non-alcohol) and borderline personality disorder in sample 1, and a lifetime anxiety disorder and social phobia in sample 2.

Conclusions: BDD usually began during childhood or adolescence. Early onset was associated with gradual onset, a lifetime history of attempted suicide, and greater comorbidity in both samples. Other clinical features reflecting greater morbidity were also more common in the early-onset group, although these findings were not consistent across the two samples.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorders / epidemiology
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorders / psychology
  • Comorbidity
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Personality Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Personality Disorders / epidemiology
  • Personality Disorders / psychology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Substance-Related Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Suicide, Attempted