Brain Scans and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

By Unknown photographer/artist [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD is a complaint in which a person has fixated thoughts and neurotic behaviors that grow so excessive, they can interfere with daily life.

The traditional course of action for obsessive compulsive disorder includes the use of cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy is helpful to individuals because it allows them to understand the thoughts and feelings they are having and how it influences their behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy also helps people take action to eliminate wayward beliefs.

OCD and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Not all those suffering from OCD will benefit from CBT in the long term. It is estimated that 20 percent of people with OCD will recover after therapy, while the other 80 percent will experience a recurrence of symptoms.

In a recent study done by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), clinical researchers believe that a certain detail from a person’s brain scan could help in identifying which individuals are at a higher likelihood of relapse after CBT.

This discovery is very important because countless number of Americans will suffer from OCD at some point. When the disorder is not treated properly, it can be profoundly distressing to the person and it can also have a negative impact on their ability to succeed in school, secure employment or be a functional member of society.

Because cognitive behavioral therapy doesn’t work for everyone, using brain scans may help to identify those who might not benefit from traditional therapies. Dr. Jamie Feusner, a UCLA associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Semel Institute, states,” The efficiency of brain network connectivity before treatment predicts the worsening of symptoms after treatment.”

Dr. Feusner and Joseph O’Neill, an associate professor in child psychiatry and research scientist at UCLA Semel Institute, were the co-principal investigators of the study. The recent results of this study were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Results of the Study

In the study, the research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging to evaluate the brains of 17 people. The study participants were aged 21 to 50 years old, with obsessive compulsive disorder. The scans were taken before and after people completed an intensive one month course of CBT and doctors monitored the individual’s clinical symptoms for a period of one year.

Dr. Feusner stated, “We found that cognitive behavioral therapy itself results in more densely connected local brain networks, which likely reflects more efficient brain activity.”

Researchers also found that individuals who had more proficient brain connectivity before they started treatment actually did much worse in the period of follow-up.

However, neither the severity of a person’s symptoms prior to starting treatment nor the amount of symptom improvement during treatment were an accurate indicator of how the individual would succeed post-treatment.

Researchers say that knowing more information about how a person would do over the long term, could possibly help physicians and patients pick the best methods of treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder.

The study performed by UCLA was the first of its kind, involving the use of brain connectivity to understand how treatment effects the brains of people who have OCD. More study is needed to completely grasp how these new findings will benefit and influence OCD treatment in the future.

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