Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (Causes)

The old belief that OCD was the result of life experiences has become less valid with the growing focus on biological factors. The fact that OCD patients respond well to specific medications that affect the neurotransmitter serotonin suggests the disorder has a neurobiological basis. For that reason, OCD is no longer attributed only to attitudes a patient learned in childhood -- inordinate emphasis on cleanliness, or a belief that certain thoughts are dangerous or unacceptable. The search for causes now focuses on the interaction of neurobiological factors and environmental influences, as well as cognitive processes.

OCD is sometimes accompanied by depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, a personality disorder, attention deficit disorder or another of the anxiety disorders. Coexisting disorders can make OCD more difficult both to diagnose and to treat. Symptoms of OCD are seen in association with some other neurological disorders. There is an increased rate of OCD in people with Tourette's syndrome, an illness characterized by involuntary movements and vocalizations. Investigators are currently studying the hypothesis that a genetic relationship exists between OCD and the tic disorders.

Other illnesses that may be linked to OCD are trichotillomania (the repeated urge to pull out scalp hair, eyelashes, eyebrows or other body hair), body dysmorphic disorder (excessive preoccupation with imaginary or exaggerated defects in appearance) and hypochondriasis (the fear of having -- despite medical evaluation and reassurance -- a serious disease). Researchers are investigating the place of OCD within a spectrum of disorders that may share certain biological or psychological bases. It is currently unknown how closely related OCD is to other disorders such as trichotillomainia, body dysmorphic disorder and hypochondriasis.

There are also theories about OCD linking it to the interaction between behavior and the environment, which are not incompatible with biological explanations.

A person with OCD has obsessive and compulsive behaviors that are extreme enough to interfere with everyday life. People with OCD should not be confused with a much larger group of people sometimes called "compulsive" for being perfectionists and highly organized. This type of "compulsiveness" often serves a valuable purpose, contributing to a person's self-esteem and success on the job. In that respect, it differs from the life-wrecking obsessions and rituals of the person with OCD.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Last reviewed 12/31/1969
  • Archives of General Psychiatry
  • British Journal of Psychiatry Supplement
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition
  • National Institutes of Mental Health
  • National Library of Medicine
  • Psychiatric disorders in America: the Epidemiologic Catchment Area Study
  • Psychopharmacology Bulletin