Compulsive carnival song whistling following cardiac arrest: a case study

BMC Psychiatry. 2012 Jul 3;12:75. doi: 10.1186/1471-244X-12-75.


Background: Compulsivity is the repetitive, irresistible urge to perform a behavior, the experience of loss of voluntary control over this intense urge and the tendency to perform repetitive acts in a habitual or stereotyped manner. Compulsivity is part of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but may occasionally occur as stand-alone symptom following brain damage induced by cardiac arrest. In this case report, we describe a patient who developed compulsivity following cardiac arrest. We review diagnostic options, underlying mechanisms and possible treatments.

Case presentation: A 65-year-old man presented at our clinic with continuous compulsive whistling following cardiac arrest. Neither obsessive-compulsive symptoms, nor other psychiatric complaints were present prior to the hypoxic incident. An EEG showed diffuse hypofunction, mainly in baso-temporal areas. Treatment with clomipramine resulted in a decrease of whistling.

Discussion: This case report illustrates de novo manifestation of compulsivity following cardiac arrest and subsequent brain damage and gives additional information on diagnostic options, mechanisms and treatment options. Differential diagnosis between stereotypies, punding, or OCD is difficult. Compulsivity following brain damage may benefit from treatment with serotonin reuptake inhibitors. This finding enhances our knowledge of treatments in similar cases.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / therapeutic use
  • Brain Waves / physiology
  • Clomipramine / therapeutic use
  • Compulsive Behavior / complications
  • Compulsive Behavior / drug therapy
  • Compulsive Behavior / physiopathology
  • Compulsive Behavior / psychology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Heart Arrest / complications
  • Heart Arrest / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Singing*


  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Clomipramine