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Compulsive hoarding syndrome is a condition that affects about 1.2 million people in the United States. It accompanies obsessive-compulsive disorder in 25 to 40 percent of the diagnosed cases. One in three people with obsessive-compulsive disorder has hoarding tendencies.
Hoarding affects some people more severely than others. People with severe cases stack all sort of items in their living spaces and live in cramped conditions. The clutter invariably leads to unsanitary and unhygienic living conditions as well.
Hoarding is also distinguishable by type of items hoarded. Some people hoard food, old newspapers and junk mail, others hoard trash, and still others hoard animals without taking proper care of them.
What causes compulsive hoarding?
Apparent causes of hoarding are laziness, weakness of character, and disorganization, but such conditions are not the underlying causes. Research has not yet substantiated the exact causes of hoarding, but nevertheless biological conditions, brain abnormalities, and genetics are major possible causes.
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Biological and Environmental Causes of Hoarding
Compulsive hoarding may start after brain damage resulting from strokes, surgery, injury, and infection, or owing to abnormal brain development and brain lesions.
The brains of people who have compulsive hoarding syndrome function differently from those with non-hoarding obsessive-compulsive disorder and those without any psychological problems. A study entitled “Cerebral Glucose Metabolism in Obsessive-Compulsive Hoarding “by Sanjay Saxena et al. published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and hoarding have a different pattern of cerebral glucose metabolism compared to others. Research is however still in its early stages and how differences in cerebral glucose metabolism contribute to compulsive hoarding remains inconclusive.
Environmental factors such as emotional shocks, depression, and traumatic incidents serve to trigger abnormal brain functioning.
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Genetic Causes of Hoarding
About 85 percent of all people suffering from compulsive hoarding syndrome have close relatives with the same disorder. A 2009 study at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, United Kingdom, published online (August 17, 2009) in the American Journal of Psychiatry states that genetics account for about 50 percent of all compulsive hoarding cases.
A 2007 study by Jack Samuels et. al entitled "Hoarding in Obsessive-compulsive Disorder: Results from the OCD Collaborative Genetics Study" identifies unique patterns in genes on chromosome 14 of families with people who hoard. Further research on families having two or more people with hoarding tendencies reveals an even stronger unique pattern on chromosome 14. Obsessive compulsive disorder without hoarding is linked to chromosome 3. How these specific DNA patterns link into hoarding is as yet unknown.
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Other Causes of Hoarding
Research on the possible causes of hoarding is still on-going, and the exact reasons why people hoard is not conclusive.
Research by Dr. Randy Frost of Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts and Rachel C Gross, entitled "The Hoarding of Possessions" attempts to trace a relationship between material depravation, especially in childhood to compulsive hoarding, but fails to show a positive correlation.
People with compulsive hoarding syndrome are aware that the clutter they accumulate is socially unacceptable, but they are unable to do anything about it. They react by isolating themselves and leading a restricted social life, reluctant to seek treatment.
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- Mayo Clinic. “Hoarding: Causes." Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hoarding/DS00966/DSECTION=causes on March 22, 2011.
- University of California, San Diego. “What is Compulsive Hoarding?" Retrieved from http://psychiatry.ucsd.edu/OCD_hoarding.html on March 22, 2011.
- Serendip. "The Relationship between Compulsive Hoarding Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder" Retrieved from http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/6850 on March 21, 2011.
- Collingwood, Jane. "The Genetics of Compulsive Hoarding." Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/2009/the-genetics-of-compulsive-hoarding/ on March 24, 2011.
- Medscape. "Genetics Most Important Factor in Compulsive Hoarding." Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/708049 on March 24, 2011.
- Saxena, Sanjaya et. al. (June 2004) "Cerebral Glucose Metabolism in Obsessive-Compulsive Hoarding." Am J Psychiatry 161:1038-1048.
- Samuels, Jack, et. al. (May 2002). "Hoarding in obsessive compulsive disorder: results from a case-control study." Behaviour Research and Therapy. Volume 40, Issue 5,Pages 517-528
- Frost, Randy, et. Gross, Rachel, C. (May 1993). "The hoarding of possessions." Behaviour Research and Therapy Volume 31, Issue 4, May 1993, Pages 367-381.
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