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Causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Washers, Checkers, Doubters, Sinners, Counters, Arrangers, Hoarders - no one likes to be labeled, but if you have been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder it is likely you fall into one those categories. But what are the causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Some people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are afraid of contamination, and find themselves compelled to wash their hands over, and over again. Others repeatedly check things, like making sure the lights are off, or the doors are locked because of undue worrying. There are those that have to be absolutely sure everything is perfect because they fear something terrible will happen, or they will be punished in some way. And there are some who are obsessed with numbers, colors, or arrangements, or find themselves hoarding useless items they don’t need, but can’t bring themselves to throw away. OCD comes in many forms, yet no one really knows what the causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is the fourth most common psychiatric disorder, affecting about one adult in every 40 around the world. It is twice as common as schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, and is felt by both men and women in equal numbers. The affects of OCD on a person’s quality of life can be debilitating, invading every aspect of thought, feeling, and behavior throughout the day, filling the hours with obsessive thoughts, and compulsive acts that make life unbearable for those afflicted, and those loved ones who have to live with them.

Yet despite the severity of the condition, and its prevalence around the world, it is an anxiety disorder that is still perplexing, and baffling to doctors, scientists, and researchers who are still asking themselves, “What are the causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?” One thing that the healthcare professionals do seem to agree on, and that is OCD has links in psychology and biology.

The psychological factors include behavior and cognition. The Behavior Theory is based on the suggestion that people with OCD look to avoid the things they associate with fear, or perform rituals to help reduce the fear, and that this is triggered by high levels of emotional stress. It is thought that people with OCD experiencing an episode of great stress make a connection between an object and the feeling of fear, which then leads to obsessive and compulsive behavior in a bid to avoid or reduce the fear, rather than confront it or tolerate it.

Causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The Cognitive Theory suggests that rather than associating an object with their fear, people with OCD become afraid of their thoughts when those thoughts are “bad” or unsettling. These thoughts are unwanted but become intrusive, again because of emotional stress, and then become greatly distressing, causing extreme anxiety. Again, people who come to fear their own thoughts look to escape them by avoiding the situations that give rise to the thoughts, or adopting rituals like washing to overcome them.

Another of the possible causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is thought to be the lack of serotonin, the chemical found in the brain that helps regulate mood, aggression, impulse control, sleep, appetite, body temperature, and pain. There are other aspects of brain activity that are also thought to be a factor in causing OCD. These are the caudate nucleus which is said to manage habitual and repetitive behavior; the prefrontal orbital cortex believed to affect ‘appropriate’ social behavior; and the cingulate gyrus in the centre of the brain, which is thought to influence the emotional response to obsessive thoughts. It is believed that the cingulate gyrus tells us to perform compulsions to reduce anxiety.

What all three of these parts of the brain have in common is that they all have many brain cells affected by serotonin. Hence researchers are of the belief that if you can increase serotonin in the brain, you will also improve the levels of activity in these areas, which in turn could relieve the symptoms of OCD.

Genes are also being looked at by researchers, but as yet there is no substantial evidence to support any family linkage. However, some studies have revealed that some genes are involved in the regulation of serotonin, which consequently can be passed on down through the generations.

But, as with many forms of anxiety disorder, the causes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have not really been fully explained, which may not be totally surprising, as the workings of the brain is still the most unfathomable, and mysterious area unknown to man.

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