Clinical features of olfactory reference syndrome: An internet-based study

J Psychosom Res. 2016 Jan;80:11-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.11.001. Epub 2015 Nov 10.


Objective: Preoccupation with perceived bodily odor has been described in neuropsychiatric disorders for more than a century; however, empirical research on olfactory reference syndrome (ORS) is scarce. This study investigated the phenomenology of ORS in a broadly ascertained, diverse sample.

Method: Data were obtained from 253 subjects in an internet-based survey that operated from January - March 2010. Measures included the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale Modified for ORS (ORS-YBOCS), Work and Social Adjustment Scale (WSAS), Depression Anxiety Stress Scales (DASS), and symptom specific questionnaires developed for this study.

Results: Individuals reported, on average, moderately severe ORS symptoms. The average age of onset of ORS symptoms was 21.1 years, with 54% reporting a chronic, unremitting course. Individuals endorsed a lifetime average of two malodorous preoccupations, most commonly stool, garbage, and ammonia. Odors were most often reported to emanate from the armpits, feet, and breasts. Nearly all participants engaged in time-consuming rituals to try to hide or fix their perceived malodor (e.g., checking and camouflaging). Eighteen percent reported poor or delusional insight and 64.0% reported ideas or delusions of reference. More severe ORS symptoms were moderately associated with female gender, poorer insight, and higher levels of impairment (in work, social leisure, ability to maintain close relationships, and consecutive days housebound).

Conclusion: This is the largest study on ORS to date. Results underscore the clinical significance and psychosocial impact of this understudied disorder, and highlight the need for subsequent research to examine clinical features and inform treatment.

Keywords: Jikoshu-kyofu; Malodour; Obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders; Olfactory reference syndrome; Somatoform disorders; Taijin kyofusho.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age of Onset
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Compulsive Behavior
  • Delusions / epidemiology
  • Delusions / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology
  • Odorants
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Adjustment
  • Somatoform Disorders / epidemiology
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult