Medical histories and psychological profiles of middle-aged women with and without self-reported illness from environmental chemicals

J Clin Psychiatry. 1995 Apr;56(4):151-60.


Background: Cacosmia, which is a predictor of cognitive deficits in industrial samples, is a core symptom of several controversial syndromes. Previous studies of cacosmic populations have considered only psychiatric but not medical or family histories of identified patients.

Method: This questionnaire survey study examined subjective characteristics of illness from chemical odors, sensitivity to chemicals, psychological and stress profiles, and medical, psychiatric, and family health histories of 28 middle-aged women with cacosmia in self-reported poor health attributed to chemicals (MCS), 17 controls with cacosmia in good health, and 20 normal controls without cacosmia in good health.

Results: Those with MCS rated themselves in significantly poorer overall health with higher Pennebaker symptom scores, a larger number of chemical triggers, and greater frequency of illness from chemicals than the other two groups, even after controlling for variables on which the groups differed (i.e., education, Symptom Checklist-90 [revised] somatization, obsessive-compulsiveness, depression, anxiety, phobic anxiety, psychoticism, Barsky Somatic Symptom Amplification, and Cheek-Buss shyness). Despite increased levels of affective distress, those with MCS reported the greatest intolerance for alcohol and the lowest alcohol consumption.

Conclusion: The data suggest that women with MCS report increased disability, multiple medical diagnoses including inflammatory and gynecologic dysfunctions, and psychological distress. The data are consistent descriptively with the phenomenology of somatization disorder. However, the persisting significance of group health rating differences after controlling for psychological variables, the lack of differences in life stress ratings between those with MCS and healthy cacosmics, the later age at onset (60% after age 30 years), and the lack of excess family psychiatric histories in this sample of women with MCS suggest a potential role for an organic factor in the evolution of poor health in certain cacosmics.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Age of Onset
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Comorbidity
  • Environmental Pollution / adverse effects
  • Family
  • Female
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Mental Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Morbidity
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / diagnosis*
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / epidemiology
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / psychology
  • Probability
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Regression Analysis
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Somatoform Disorders / diagnosis
  • Somatoform Disorders / epidemiology
  • Somatoform Disorders / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires