Sensory phenomena associated with repetitive behaviors in obsessive-compulsive disorder: An exploratory study of 1001 patients

Ygor Arzeno Ferrão, Roseli Gedanke Shavitt, Helena Prado, Leonardo F. Fontenelle, Dante Marino Malavazzi, Maria Alice de Mathis, Ana Gabriela Hounie, Eurípedes Constantino Miguel, Maria Conceição do Rosário

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A substantial number of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) report compulsions that are preceded not by obsessions but by subjective experiences known as sensory phenomena. This study aimed to investigate the frequency, severity, and age at onset of sensory phenomena in OCD, as well as to compare OCD patients with and without sensory phenomena in terms of clinical characteristics. We assessed 1,001 consecutive OCD patients, using instruments designed to evaluate the frequency/severity of OC symptoms, tics, anxiety, depression, level of insight and presence/severity of sensory phenomena. All together, 651 (65.0%) subjects reported at least one type of sensory phenomena preceding the repetitive behaviors. Considering the sensory phenomena subtypes, 371 (57.0%) patients had musculoskeletal sensations, 519 (79.7%) had externally triggered "just-right" perceptions, 176 (27.0%) presented internally triggered "just right," 144 (22.1%) had an "energy release," and 240 (36.9%) patients had an "urge only" phenomenon. Sensory phenomena were described as being as more severe than were obsessions by 102(15.7%) patients. Logistic regression analysis showed that the following characteristics were associated with the presence of sensory phenomena: higher frequency and greater severity of the symmetry/ordering/arranging and contamination/washing symptom dimensions; comorbid Tourette syndrome, and a family history of tic disorders. These data suggest that sensory phenomena constitute a poorly understood psychopathological aspect of OCD that merits further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)253-258
Number of pages6
JournalPsychiatry Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 30 May 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Psychopathology
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Repetitive movement
  • Sensory phenomena

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