The Physiology of OCD


For those of you with OCD, you know that this disorder is not one to simply “get over.”  Sometimes you might even swear that you would do anything to be “normal.”  I know I would give anything just to be able to go out in the world, going about my everyday life without the life or death fear of catching disease.  I look at others and I wonder why I am this way and hopelessly long to be like them, seemingly carefree and ignorant of contamination.  I just wish I could get over it!

Well, researchers have proven that OCD may not be something that someone with this disorder can simply be “cured” of.  MRI studies show that when compared to children in a control group, children diagnosed with OCD were found to have enlarged basal ganglia, and more specifically in the regions known as the globus pallidus, caudate, and putamen (Giedd et. al, 2000).

What does this mean?  When you consider the functions of the basal ganglia, then you may begin to see why enlargement to the area can be a significant problem.  It is thought that the basal ganglia is responsible for procedural learning (a.k.a. habits), voluntary motor control, eye movement, and cognitive-emotional functions (Stocco et. al, 2010).  Therefore, abnormalities of this cortical region could lead to dysfunctions in these areas of human behavior.

This is something that my psychiatrist touched on when I first started seeing him, but I felt the need to explore it a bit further myself and then share it with others.

Personally, it is a bit comforting to know that this is not just “all in my head,” figuratively speaking.  Literally, however, it really is all in my head 🙂

Today’s research leads to tomorrow’s treatments.  Isn’t our modern world truly amazing?

Giedd, J., Rapoport, J., Garvey, M., Perlmuter, S., & Swedo, S. (2000). MRI assessment of children with obsessive-compulisive disorder or tics associated with streptococcal infection. American Journal of Psychiatry, 157 (2), 281-283.

Stocco, A., Lebiere, C., & Anderson, J. (2010). Conditional routing of information to the cortex: A model of the basal ganglia’s role in cognitive coordination. Psychological Review, 117 (2), 541–74.


6 thoughts on “The Physiology of OCD

  1. You clearly know that once you *know* you have OCD, everything you do just feels completely abnormal. But before you knew about it, did it worry you most of the time? I have OCD too, and I realize now that I’ve always had it, but before there were only certain things that made me really upset that were caused by the disorder. Like, before I was diagnosed, I didn’t care that I avoided certain numbers, and I thought it was a choice, so I didn’t mind. I thought they were just habits. But when I became obsessed with something that was scary, like the thought of getting sick, I felt really upset by it. Knowing things about OCD is both comforting and worrying, wouldn’t you agree? Because there are people who can empathize with you…but at the same time, no one can cure you.

    But I’ve learned ways to help myself overcome my worst problems (it takes a lot of hard work and practice), and I strongly believe that you can too!

    By the way, I think you have a lot of of courage to write about this using your real name and everything. I like to keep my OCD behavior kind of a secret. My blog’s anonymous, written with my 2 best friends, so this is ok for me. 😀 But I admire your honesty, not just on this post, but overall.

    1. Oh definitely! Before being diagnosed, I couldn’t think of any other word to describe myself other than “crazy.” I now avoid this term at all costs because it is quite archaic in its meaning and damning to those with mental illness. I was so worried that there was something seriously “wrong” with me. I would cry because I felt absolutely helpless and like I was losing my mind. Why was I having these thoughts about illness? No one else seems to have them! It finally took a breakdown to seek professional help and I’m glad I did it.

      I’ve a lot of support in my life, family, friends, and even co-workers, are all quite understanding of my disorder and I don’t try to hide it. It’s nothing to be ashamed about 🙂 Feel free to drop by any time and share openly and honestly. This is a judgement-free zone! =D

      1. That’s something else fascinating about OCD; everyone experiences it differently. Like, we show similar symptoms but we all feel differently about them. I used to cry about those things too, sometimes. Other times I was crying because I thought there would be a fire, or a terrorist attack, or I/someone else would get sick…you get the idea.

        That’s really great! I think most of the people who know I have it don’t actually get why I can’t just get over it (or what it is, for that matter). But they try, and I’m grateful for that. Honestly, after ~1 year of therapy I could quit, so now I just feel like handling most of these things on my own with what I learned. It works for me because my symptoms are usually mild/usually don’t cause much subjective discomfort, and I learned how to distract myself from the tougher ones, like negative mental images/thoughts. Plus, my mom always brings me back down to earth when I’m in a “downward spiral,” as she calls it. She uses a “tough love” approach, which surprisingly works. xD

        Thanks for that, Megan! 😀

      2. The fact that OCD anatomically/physiologically based makes a great deal of sense to me because this is something that I think I’ve had most of my life and it seems to have gotten worse as I’ve gotten older, perhaps with development. It is definitely not something that one can just “get over” and I am doing my best to dispel that myth every day 🙂 My boyfriend gives me the tough love approach too and I have to say, it’s the only thing keeping me going sometimes. I think we just need that strong, decisive figure in our lives 🙂

  2. Do not have any knowledge nor experiences to lend you, but simply to say that I was humbled by you coming to visit my blog. I am AMAZED at yours. Very nice. Informative. To the heart. If you have any suggestions…I am listening. Or watching.

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