Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Runs in Families
April 27, 2000 -- If you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), there is
a good chance that someone else in your family has it and that your own
children are at higher risk for getting it, too.
OCD is a psychiatric disorder in which a person experiences obsessions or
recurrent, persistent thoughts or images that are intrusive and inappropriate
and cause distress. They are not simply worries about real-life problems.
Troubling thoughts, such as being contaminated after shaking hands, are
usually accompanied by compulsions -- repetitive behaviors, like washing hands
or checking that your front door is locked -- that a person with OCD feels
driven to perform in response to the thoughts. OCD can be a very disabling
disorder and is vastly different from many people's common, mild desire to
check things, like whether they turned the stove or the iron off before leaving
A study published in the April 2000 issue of the journal Archives of
General Psychiatry shows that OCD occurs much more commonly among relatives
of OCD sufferers than relatives of people without OCD. The researchers
concluded that they have enough evidence to suggest that OCD is a familial
The study's authors write in the study that the role of heredity in OCD,
which has long been suspected by clinicians, has been supported by several
studies that included twins, but results from other family studies have been
Lead author Gerald Nestadt, MD, MPH, says that in addition to finding that
OCD runs in families, the study showed "the earlier individuals develop
these symptoms, the more likely they are to have a familial type of this
condition. That is, there is more reason to suspect a stronger genetic basis if
you have an earlier age at onset." Nestadt is an associate professor of
psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
"It looks to be a pretty good study," Robert Hudak, MD, tells WebMD.
"The findings [that OCD is a familial disorder] are not unexpected and it
has been my experience too." He says he finds it very interesting that the
younger the person is when they start manifesting symptoms, the higher the risk
that family members will have it too.
This shows that, "early age of onset ... indicates there is a really
strong genetic biologic component." Hudak, an assistant professor of
psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, reviewed the study
In the study, researchers selected patients with OCD in the Baltimore and
Washington, D.C., areas and compared them with people who did not have OCD.
They then contacted family members and used various rating scales to determine
if the study participants' relatives were affected, too.
The occurrence of OCD was almost five times higher among relatives of
patients than among relatives of people who did not have OCD.