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  • Shreyas Sharma

Causes of OCD

Updated: Jan 30, 2021

People suffering from OCD have multiple triggers that make them anxious and they have their own weird routines to help satiate that anxiety. To understand OCD, it is important to understand how it is caused. Researchers have used neuroimaging to understand how the brain of a person with OCD reacts in situations and how this compares to the reaction of the brain of a person not suffering from the OCD.

A Simplified Analogy

Imagine entering a Starbucks making an order. The barista is a little incompetent and your order is never delivered. So you as a customer just keep barking the orders and the barista just keeps getting a little more confused each time. Your brain is similar to the barista. The intrusive thoughts are the orders being barked at you. At one point, the instructions are too much for your brain to handle and this causes anxiety.

What goes on in the head?

Researchers have used neuroimaging techniques to notice how the brain of a person with OCD functions in comparison to persons without OCD. These images indicate that OCD is caused due to communication errors between different parts of the brain. Among these parts are ​the orbitofrontal cortex, the anterior cingulate cortex (both in the front of the brain), and the striatum, and the thalamus (deeper parts of the brain). Abnormalities in neurotransmitter systems – chemicals such serotonin, dopamine, glutamate (and possibly others) that send messages between brain cells – are also involved in the disorder.

Why does it happen?

Researchers have been unable to find any definitive causes for OCD. There are multiple probable causes that could cause it. OCD is likely to be a combination of cognitive, genetic, behavioural, environmental and neurobiological causes.

One probable cause could be related to an uncommon mutation in the ​human serotonin transporter gene (hSERT). There is also research to suggest that OCD could be hereditary. One still can’t come up with a definitive cause for OCD but the genetic component increases the risk by about 45%.

Behavioral conditioning and environmental factors could also play a significant role in causing OCD. Compulsions are developed as a response to excessive intrusive thoughts. The rituals that later become compulsions are used as a response to the discomfort. This then develops into a behaviour and becomes excessive in nature.

Theorists also believe that environmental factors affect how persons perceive thoughts. A certain thought might be a normal one, like, 'what if I am gay?' This, when in a homophobic environment, has the scope to become more of an issue. It might start bothering the person excessively resulting in him reacting to the problem excessively. This then becomes a behavioural pattern and a the person is stuck in the cycle.

The way forward

A lot more research is required in order to definitively arrive at a cause. This will also help address the issue in a better manner. Advancements in technology have made research easier. It is just important to keep studying and hope the exploration helps find the broken link in the OCD chain.

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