Complaints of constipation in obsessive-compulsive disorder

Carol S North, M. Napier, D. H. Alpers, E. L. Spitznagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Psychoanalytic observation has launched a long tradition in medical literature that links constipation with obsessive-compulsive traits. This association, however, has never been tested empirically. The current investigation sought to test this hypothesized association empirically using a large, randomly sampled population database. Data from the Epidemiologic Catchment Area project collected with the Diagnostic Interview Schedule were analyzed to determine the association, if any, of complaint of medically unexplained constipation (ascertained from the somatization disorder section of the interview) with a DIS diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Reported history of constipation was significantly associated with a lifetime diagnosis of OCD in women (not men), even when controlling for symptom-reporting biases using number of other positive somatoform symptoms. This association was specific to constipation and OCD and did not apply to other functional bowel symptoms including diarrhea, bloating (gas), and abdominal pain. Other psychiatric disorders commonly implicated with functional bowel complaints - major depression and panic disorder - were not significantly associated with constipation controlling for effects of other somatoform symptoms. The lack of association of constipation with OCD in men in a general population sample fails to support psychoanalytic concepts that historically have linked these two phenomena, but a special relationship of OCD with constipation was present in women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)65-70
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of Clinical Psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1995


  • Character trains
  • Constipation
  • Epidemiologic Catchment Area study
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Psychoanalysis
  • Psychosomatic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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