From the Journals

Compulsivity contributes to poor outcomes in body-focused repetitive behaviors



Compulsivity is a significant contributor to disability and poor quality of life for individuals with trichotillomania (TTM) and skin-picking disorder (SPD), based on data from 91 adults.

Although body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), specifically trichotillomania and skin-picking disorder, are similar in clinical presentation to aspects of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the role of compulsivity in TTM and SPD has not been well studied, wrote Jon E. Grant, MD, of the University of Chicago and colleagues.

In a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, the authors recruited 69 women and 22 men who met DSM-5 criteria for TTM and SPD. Participants completed diagnostic interviews, symptom inventories, and measures of disability/functioning. Compulsivity was measured using the 15-item Cambridge-Chicago Compulsivity Trait Scale (CHI-T). The average age of the participants was 30.9 years; 48 had TTM, 37 had SPD, and 2 had both conditions.

department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago

Dr. Jon E. Grant

Overall, total CHI-T scores were significantly correlated with worse disability and quality of life, based on the Quality of Life Inventory (P = .0278) and the Sheehan Disability Scale (P = .0085) but not with severity of TTM or SPD symptoms. TTM and SPD symptoms were assessed using the Massachusetts General Hospital Hair Pulling Scale and the Skin Picking Symptom Symptom Assessment Scale.

“In the current study, we did not find a link between conventional symptom severity measures for BFRBs and disability or quality of life, whereas trans-diagnostic compulsivity did correlate with these clinically important parameters,” the researchers wrote in their discussion. “These findings might suggest the current symptom measures for BFRBs are not including an important aspect of the disease and that a fuller understanding of these symptoms requires measurement of compulsivity. Including validated measures of compulsivity in clinical trials of therapy or medication would also seem to be important for future work,” they said.

The study findings were limited by several factors including the use of a community sample that may not generalize to a clinical setting, the researchers noted. Other limitations include the cross-sectional design, which prevents conclusions about causality, the lack of a control group, and the relatively small sample size, they said.

However, the study is the first known to use a validated compulsivity measure to assess BFRBs, and the results suggest a clinically relevant impact of compulsivity on both psychosocial dysfunction and poor quality of life in this patient population, with possible implications for treatment, the researchers wrote.

The study received no outside funding. Lead author Dr. Grant disclosed research grants from Otsuka and Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, yearly compensation from Springer Publishing for acting as editor in chief of the Journal of Gambling Studies, and royalties from Oxford University Press, American Psychiatric Publishing, Norton Press, and McGraw Hill.

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