A Rare Mental Disorder: The Deep Conviction That You Smell Bad

By Joseph Calamia | May 26, 2010 2:19 pm

laundryThey change their clothes frequently. They shower repeatedly, sometimes using a whole bar of soap in one go. Some even swallow perfume.

They think they smell bad, but they don’t.

Olfactory reference syndrome is a rare psychiatric disorder, but it can lead to isolation, depression, and suicide. It’s also a little-noticed, little-studied syndrome. But now a study to appear in Depression and Anxiety has looked at twenty sufferers and reviewed current literature on the disorder to determine its general characteristics.

Psychiatrists have known about the disorder’s symptoms for over a century, but treatment and diagnosis are difficult, in part because the syndrome doesn’t currently have its own classification in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)–the handbook of mental health professionals. The manual combines the syndrome with other disorders, such as social phobia, delusional disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The new study gives recommendations for updating the next version of the manual, and suggests adding this disorder to an appendix of conditions that need further research.

As reported by HealthDay News, nineteen of the study’s twenty volunteers exhibited at least one compulsive behavior, like repeated self-sniffing or showering. On average, they spent eight hours a day thinking about their smell. Fearing social interactions, forty percent had been housebound for over a week.

Many patients thought the smell came from their mouth, but they were also concerned with their armpits, genitalia, anus, feet, and skin, according to a MedPage Today article.

Katharine Phillips, a coauthor of the study and a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University, presented these and other findings on Tuesday at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting. She told Reuters Health:

“I think it’s a very secret and hidden disorder, because these patients tend to be very ashamed of themselves…. I have been so struck by the intense suffering that the patients experience.”

Related content:
Discoblog: Bad Breath? Body Odor? Don’t Bother Applying to China’s Space Program
Discoblog: Doctor, Is My Diabetes Medicine Supposed to Smell Like Gym Socks?
DISCOVER: Finding the Right Word Odor
DISCOVER: The Brain: The First Yardstick for Measuring Smells

Image: flickr / mysza831

  • http://joshuacolin.com Joshua

    Wow, what a weird condition! However, I’m really not a fan of the medicalization of extreme personality traits. This certainly would warrant some counseling but I don’t know if it deserves it’s own DSM designation. Can’t some things just be weird and not a syndrome?!

  • http://jonifermainit.tumblr.com/ Robbie Legarreta

    This is precisely the information I am looking for. Remarkable blog. Pretty inspirational! The posts are so useful and detailed. The links you have are also very useful too. Many thanks :)

  • Kellyclarkez

    i have it josh it’s not funny

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Discoblog

Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »