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Obsessive compulsive disorder: family members at higher risk
By Birgit Hofmann

When some people's worries and rituals get out of control, and such behavior begins to interfere with normal activities, obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, may be to blame. OCD is an anxiety disorder estimated to affect two to three percent of the population.

As OCD tends to run in families, researchers from Johns Hopkins University Medical Institutions put this observation to a test. They examined 80 patients with OCD and 343 of their first-degree relatives, comparing them to 73 control cases without the disorder and 300 of their relatives. The results clearly point to a strong genetic basis because the risk of suffering from the illness at some time in life is five times higher if a first-degree relative is struck with the disorder.

Typically, people with OCD are plagued with persistent and recurring thoughts or obsessions that cause distress and anxiety. In order to diminish distress, they feel compelled to perform acts over and over again, which temporarily reduces the stress before obsessions get the upper hand again. Common compulsions include repetitive hand washing, cleaning, ordering, checking and repeating words silently.

The study, which was published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, concludes that OCD is indeed a familial disorder and strongly encourages a molecular genetic approach to identify the genes involved in the understanding of the mechanisms of OCD's development.

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Nestadt, G. et al. A family study of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Arch Gen Psychiatry 57, 358-363 (April 2000).

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