Indian Journal of PsychiatryIndian Journal of Psychiatry
Home | About us | Current Issue | Archives | Ahead of Print | Submission | Instructions | Subscribe | Advertise | Contact | Login 
    Users online: 2156 Small font sizeDefault font sizeIncrease font size Print this article Email this article Bookmark this page


    Advanced search

    Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
    Email Alert *
    Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  


 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded186    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 3    

Recommend this journal


LETTER TO EDITOR Table of Contents   
Year : 2006  |  Volume : 48  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 201-202
Is olfactory reference syndrome an OCD?

Department of Psychiatry, Government Medical College and Hospital, Chandigarh, India

Click here for correspondence address and email

How to cite this article:
Singh GP. Is olfactory reference syndrome an OCD?. Indian J Psychiatry 2006;48:201-2

How to cite this URL:
Singh GP. Is olfactory reference syndrome an OCD?. Indian J Psychiatry [serial online] 2006 [cited 2020 Jul 13];48:201-2. Available from:


Although most patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) present with classical symptoms, a range of other unusual symptoms is also seen in clinical practice. The term olfactory reference syndrome (ORS) was introduced by Pryse­Phillips and falls under the rubric of unusual obsessions.[1] ORS can be defined as a psychiatric disorder characterized by preoccupation with body odour accompanied by significant distress and functional impairment. This syndrome comes within the spectrum of different anxiety disorders that include OCD, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), hypochondriasis, avoidant personality disorder and taijin kyofu (a culture­bound syndrome). This condition can present as a diagnostic dilemma in clinical practice. I describe such a case below.

A 44-year-old, fair complexioned woman presented with a 17-year history of persistent preoccupation with body odour and foul smell. This smell originated from her armpits, inguinal area and the feet. She actively disguised her symptoms to prevent discovery and was ashamed of her illness. She acknowledged that these thoughts were egodystonic and distressing and that she felt like ending her life. She held herself responsible for the odour and tended to wash herself excessively by repetitive bathing and hand washing. She used to change her clothes with more than usual frequency and restricted her domestic and social outings. There were no symptoms of sadness and suicidal ideation in the absence of these repetitive thoughts. She had a family history of OCD- her father had been under treatment from a private psychiatrist. The patient had consulted many dermatologists, medical specialists, gynaecologists and had undergone multiple investigations and had received numerous treatments but did not report any notable improvement. Diagnostic criteria of different organic conditions such as severe depressive episode, OCD with psychotic features, BDD, social anxiety disorder, culture-bound syndrome and psychosis NOS (not otherwise specified) were considered. The patient's symptoms had sufficient overlap with clinical features of several psychiatric disorders. This patient did not completely fulfil the criteria for any of these disorders but fulfilled the proposed diagnostic criteria of the ORS.[2] Her total score on the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) rating was 37.[3]

The patient was treated with tablet clomipramine (75 mg daily) for 1 week and was stabilized on a daily dose of 200 mg over the next 6 weeks. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (thought stopping, Jacobson progressive muscle relaxation and distrac­tion technique) sessions were held regularly. The combined therapy showed considerable improvement in her symptoms and on her last visit the Y-BOCS total score was 10. Her preoccupation about the odour diminished in intensity and she started participating in various social activities.

The symptoms of our patient are consistent with other reported cases in the literature.[2],[4],[5],[6] ORS is not included in the ICD-10 or DSM-IV as a separate category and is perhaps most reminiscent of the BDD.[2] In the western literature, ORS is characterized as preoccupation with the idea that the body emits a foul odour. Japanese patients with a feature similar to ORS have long been recognized as jiko-shu-kyofu, which is believed to be a culture-bound syndrome specific to Japan.[6] Though the focus of patients with BDD is by definition on physical appearance, data exist on patients having obsessional concerns about odour.[7] Given the considerable overlap between ORS and BDD, one can postulate that ORS is a variant of BDD and that the diagnostic criteria of BDD should be extended to include odour.

This patient presented with variable obsessive symptoms and, on detailed evaluation, other systemic and psychiatric disorders were ruled out. Increased awareness about unusual obsessions is the key for better recognition and treatment of such symptoms. The patient had a cluster of symptoms of different psychiatric disorders but did not fulfil the required diagnostic criteria for any one of them. The patient had symptoms related to body odour only. In contrast, patients with OCD generally have multiple symptoms over time. The phenomenological distinction between obsession and delusion is fairly obvious. However, in some cases the presentation is confusing. Is ORS a variant of the OCD spectrum or a separate psychotic entity? This question raises many treatment implications for such patients. More research is warranted in the near future to clarify this diagnostic dilemma. This condition is clinically relevant and can be misdiagnosed. Practitioners in areas known to attract high numbers of patients with OCD should be primed to look for the ORS. Thus, active screening should be incorporated into clinical practice. Untreated, this condition could be responsible for considerable social and emotional impairment to such patients.

   References Top

1.Pryse-Phillips W. An olfactory reference syndrome. Acta Psychiatr Scand 1971;47:484-509.  Back to cited text no. 1  [PUBMED]  
2. Lochner C, Stein DJ. Olfactory reference syndrome: Diagnostic criteria and differential diagnosis. J Postgrad Med 2003;49: 328-31.  Back to cited text no. 2    
3. Goodman WK, Price LH, Rasmussen SA, et al. The Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale. I. Development, use, and reliability. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1989;46:1006-11.  Back to cited text no. 3    
4. Malasi TH, El-Hilu SR, Mirza IA, et al. Olfactory delusional syndrome with various aetiologies. Br J Clin Psychiatry 1990;156:256-60.  Back to cited text no. 4    
5. Stein DJ, Le Roux L, Bouwer C, et al. Is olfactory reference syndrome an obsessive-compulsive disorder? Two cases and a discussion. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci 1998;10:96-9.  Back to cited text no. 5    
6.Suzuki K, Takei N, Iwata Y, et al. Do olfactory reference syndrome and jiko-shu-kyofu (a subtype of taijin-kyofu) share a common entity? Acta Psychiatr Scand 2004;109:150-5.  Back to cited text no. 6  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
7. Hollander E, Aronowitz BR. Comorbid social anxiety and body dysmorphic disorder: Managing the complicated patient. J Clin Psychiatry 1999;60:27-31.  Back to cited text no. 7    

Correspondence Address:
Gurvinder Pal Singh
H.No. 1202, Sector 32-B, Chandigarh 160030
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5545.31588

Rights and Permissions

This article has been cited by
1 Olfactory Reference Syndrome: a still open nosological and treatment debate
Jule Ane Ferreira,Renata P. Dallaqua,Leonardo F. Fontenelle,Albina R. Torres
General Hospital Psychiatry. 2014;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 Síndrome de referencia olfatorio: a propósito de un caso
Alberto Rodríguez-Quiroga,Luz María Rubio Mendoza,Antonio Carrillo Gómez
Psiquiatría Biológica. 2014;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
3 Olfactory reference syndrome: a systematic review of the world literature
M. Begum, P. J. McKenna
Psychological Medicine. 2011; 41(3): 453
[VIEW] | [DOI]