The Science Behind an OCD Brain

Scientists have been researching the causes of OCD for several decades and while there is still much more research to do, they have discovered some important functional characteristics of brains with OCD. This means that the brain activity in people that live with OCD is physically different than the brain in people without a diagnosis.

The location and amount of brain activity and concentration of neurotransmitters are measurably different in an OCD brain, emphasizing the importance of treatment from a psychiatrist for those with OCD to effectively manage symptoms and reduce the impact that OCD has on your life.

How OCD Changes the Way the Brain Functions

Several mental health conditions result in visible changes – from tools like MRIs and PET scans – to the brain. There may be neurotransmitters found in greater quantities, increased or decreased activity, and other differences that offer at least some explanation for why thoughts and emotions work in a certain way.

OCD, or compulsive disorder, generally involves obsessive thoughts that make it feel impossible to get your mind off of something or which can intrude when you were thinking of other things. OCD can also cause compulsive behaviors that make you feel the need to perform some action before you can relax.

Although they can occur separately, for many people with OCD, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are tied together. Often, a person must perform the behavior to at least temporarily relieve obsessive thoughts.

In their research into what causes this, scientists noticed that different areas of the brain have increased activity for people with OCD. They hypothesize that the existing feedback loop in the brain is overactive in people with OCD. This loop is designed to identify a problem and alert your brain so that you can fix it. But with OCD, the loop stays active and you continue to have the thoughts that prompt compulsive behaviors.

The process that occurs in your mind during this time relies on the following structures:

  • Cortex – The cortex, located in the front of your brain, is responsible for thought, emotions, memories, and problem solving. In short, many of the conscious processes of your brain. This is where obsessive thoughts and discomfort will occur in the brain.
  • Caudate Nucleus – Located in the striatum, the caudate and several nearby brain structures receive input from the cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for planning bodily movements, motivation, reward, and emotion. It translates the thoughts you experience in the cortex into actions.
  • Thalamus – The thalamus is in the middle of the brain and serves as a relay station for all incoming information about movements and sensory information (excluding information about smell). The thalamus relays the information back to the cortex for processing.

As OCD is a functional disorder, this means that your thoughts, actions, and emotions are impacted by actual changes to brain activity. While there are some techniques, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, that you can use to learn how to redirect thoughts and control compulsive actions, functional mental health conditions are often more successfully managed with the help of medication that can alter how the brain processes different thoughts and stimuli.

For patients in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Dr. Sehdev at Aware Behavioral Health uses a combination of medication and psychotherapy solutions to help patients manage the symptoms and challenges of living with OCD. If you have an OCD diagnosis or are experiencing the symptoms of OCD and are looking for a more effective way to manage your condition, make an appointment at Aware Behavioral Health. We are accepting new patients and have extensive experience providing OCD treatment to help you regain control over OCD. Contact us to schedule an appointment.

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