ANXIETY
June 12, 2006

OCD: In Your Genes

Genes appear to play a key role in obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Could seeing a psychologist for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder be a waste of time?

This is the question raised by a new study finding that genetics play a pivotal role in OCD. "OCD once was thought to be primarily psychological in origin," explains Yin Yao Shugart, Ph.D., statistical geneticist at Johns Hopkins University. "But now there is growing evidence that there is a genetic basis behind [it]," she says.

OCD sufferers are plagued by intrusive and senseless thoughts and impulses, as well as compulsive behaviors, such as repetitive handwashing. OCD affects about 3 percent of the American population. In the first scan of every region of every DNA (the "genome") of people with OCD, researchers collected blood samples from 1,008 individuals from 219 families in which at least two siblings were diagnosed with OCD. They identified six regions in the genome, on five different chromosomes, that appear linked to OCD.

Left for future studies is the question of whether these genetic markers cause OCD directly, or merely increase a person's risk for it along with other genetic or environmental factors. Currently, the standard treatment for OCD consists of a combination of psychotherapy and SSRIs (for example, Prozac) or other antidepressant drugs. Once more is learned about the genetic component of the disease, it is hoped that a clearer understanding of the cause or causes of OCD will lead to new and more effective treatments.
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