Latimer: Obsessive compulsive disorders in families

OCD can be a serious mental illness affecting roughly two per cent of the population.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of the most commonly discussed mental illnesses in the popular media.

With hallmark symptoms of obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviours such as excessive washing or checking, the disease is often portrayed humorously in movies or on TV.

Almost everyone can tell you of a friend who is ‘obsessive’ about some favourite activity or neurosis.

In reality, OCD is no laughing matter. It can be a serious mental illness affecting roughly two percent of the population.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts the person feels driven to perform in response to obsessive thoughts and in order to relieve the associated anxiety. Far from simply being particular or neat, those with true OCD can be crippled by their condition as it can take up more than an hour of each day and causes a great deal of interference in daily life.

They usually feel shame and distress as a result.  People often try to hide their condition and although most recognize that their obsessions are excessive or unreasonable, it often takes years to seek professional help.

We do not know exactly why some people develop OCD, but we do know there is a strong genetic component.

A recent study examining the records of 25,000 Swedish OCD patients and their families looked at the odds of relatives sharing the same diagnosis. Not surprisingly, the closer the relative, the more likely the OCD diagnosis.

First degree relatives of OCD patients were five times more likely to also have the condition than relatives of those without the condition. The odds remained elevated but went down slightly with each degree of familial separation.

A second arm of the study looked at twins and found that 47 per cent of the familial risk for OCD was due to genes rather than a shared environment. While this highlighted the strong genetic link, it also left significant room for potential environmental risk factors.

More research will be necessary in order to determine what these may be. To date, there is insufficient evidence to point to anything with certainty.

A third interesting part of this study examined the incidence of OCD in spouses or partners of the original OCD patient. Spouses were three times more likely to have OCD if their partner also had the condition.

It is not certain why this incidence was increased, but researchers speculated those with obsessive tendencies may seek out mates with similar tendencies . Again, more research may provide additional insight in this area.

At Okanagan Clinical Trials we are currently conducting a study of an investigational medication for OCD. If you are an adult between the ages of 18 and 65 and have OCD, you may be eligible to participate. Contact us at 250-862-8141 for more information.

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