OCD and Crohn’s Disease Linked?

by Bill Brenner on July 11, 2011

A fellow OCD chronicler sent me two articles suggesting a link between OCD and Crohn’s Disease. I have both and several people have asked if I see connections between the two. This is my attempt at an answer.

Mood music:

From the beginning, I’ve tied the two diseases together in my journey. At various times, one disease has played off the other, sending me to the depths of insanity. Both certainly contributed to my developing a binge-eating disorder and other kinds of addictive, self-destructive behavior.

During the childhood Crohn’s flare ups, a wire was inserted through my neck and chest to send nutrients to my stomach. That way, the lower digestive zone could have time to rest and heal. Not being allowed food or drink when all the other kids on my floor were getting their breakfast, lunch and dinner fucked with my head and led to binge eating as the addiction I would battle most. Getting junk to binge on was a major obsession, one of the loudest OCD triggers of all.

Whenever I would feel sorry for myself, I pictured an enemy holding a voodoo doll of me, stabbing it in the gut repeatedly with a needle. Was the Crohn’s holding the doll, making it do the same motions over and over again?

One article suggests something like that. It’s in Psychosomatics,
The Journal of Consultation and Liaison Psychiatry under the title “
Abrupt-Onset Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in a Child With Crohn’s Disease.” It starts with a letter to the editor, which says in part:

Johnny, a 9-year-old boy with Crohn’s Disease, experienced the abrupt onset of intrusive, ego-dystonic,sexualized obsessions (fears that he would lift up the shirtsof random women to feel their breasts) which resulted in long nightly confessions to his mother. He was also overly scrupulous and worried that “the mistakes I’ve made” would result in harm to his family and friends. 

The authors respond with this:

Patients with inflammatory bowel disease are frequently describedas obsessive, rigid, and compulsive. Burke et al. found that OC symptoms in childhood IBD did not differ significantly fromthose found in children with cystic fibrosis, suggesting thatsymptoms were related to the demands of chronic medical illness,rather than IBD itself. The pathogenesis of IBD is not fully understood; it may be related to an abnormal mucosal immune system or specific defects in cellular and humoral immunity.

The other article is in The Scientist under the title “Equations that Spell Disaster.” It starts with a portrait of Hurricane Katrina. The storm’s landfall and the aftermath was the perfect calamity because it hit an area loaded with vulnerabilities: weak infrastructure, poor lines of communication, and a dysfunctional emergency rescue system.

“These conditions coalesced to produce one of the worst human catastrophes in recent US history,” the article said. “In a similar way, complex diseases result from a series of events that may not amount to much when considered one by one, but together, coalesce into a perfect storm that spells disaster for a particular organ or system.”

Is that how it went down for me? Perhaps.

But for me, the scientific evidence is beside the point. The things that have happened to me can’t be erased, but it’s more important at this stage of my life to walk away from the wreckage a better man with a better appreciation for the life I have, warts and all. All that matters is the present and the future. The past is something you can’t change, so me obsessing about how I got the way I am is pointless.

There used to be a place for that. When I first started going to a therapist on the long path to an OCD diagnosis, I spent all my time picking through the wreckage of where I came from in search of answers. It was important to do so. But once I found myself, there was no longer much reason to stick around.

So why am I bringing it up here? Because the articles are useful to those just beginning to deal with one of these diseases.

The science can’t change my past, nor should it.

But it can lead to better treatments for people going forward.

OCD Diaries

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nikki October 8, 2011 at 5:52 pm

As a person with Crohn’s disease as well as O.c.d. I know they are related not only did my doctor tell me so but when I have problems with my gut, it messes with my brain and I start thinking very strange not my usual self.

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