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An image of a woman searching " What is the Root Cause of OCD?"

Trying to determine what is the root cause of OCD can be challenging since there is no consensus on how and why this mental health condition develops.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly abbreviated to OCD, is an SMI (serious mental illness) and anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive and distressing obsessive thoughts along with repetitive and compulsive actions.

IOCDF (International OCD Foundation) estimates that OCD impacts:

  • 1 in 100 adults
  • 1 in 200 children

Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder typically present during childhood or adolescence. The condition seldom manifests after the age of 40.

A diagnosis of this condition can dramatically impair your quality of life and overall wellbeing, so what is the root cause of OCD?

Causes of OCD

While OCD causes remain unknown, there are many potential risk factors for this condition. These include:

  • Genetic causes
  • Behavioral causes
  • Environmental causes
  • Cognitive causes

Genetic causes

Researchers believe that OCD has a possible genetic component. If you have a first-degree relative with obsessive compulsive disorder, you have more chance of developing the condition yourself.

Studies show that the brains of individuals with OCD have different functional characteristics. Genes that govern response to neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine could play a part in the development of this disorder.

Behavioral causes

Scientists hypothesize that people with OCD may learn to avoid the fear they associate with certain objects or situations by performing obsessive rituals. Performing rituals is an attempt to reduce perceived risk.

Oftentimes, the initial fear stems from a period of extreme stress like a significant loss or traumatic event. Over time, the person may start to avoid the circumstances or objects that triggered their fear, manifesting as symptoms of OCD.

Environmental causes

Research shows that stressful life events can sometimes trigger obsessive-compulsive disorder, especially in those genetically predisposed to the condition.

This 2011 study examines the role of stressful or traumatic life events in OCD. Many participants reported symptoms presenting within six months of events like:

  • Severe conflict
  • Complications during pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Chronic illness
  • TBI (traumatic brain injury)

Additionally, OCD can co-occur with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Cognitive causes

Some researchers theorize that OCD develops when someone misinterprets their thoughts.

While many people without OCD have intrusive and unwelcome thoughts from time to time, those with OCD place more importance on those thoughts, allowing them to become more extreme and intense.

As an example, someone caring for an elderly loved one under pressurized conditions may occasionally have intrusive thoughts wishing them harm. If such thoughts persist, they may take on undue significance. If this occurs in someone with OCD, they may feel convinced the action in the thought is liable to happen some time soon. In response, they take action in the form of rituals to prevent this perceived danger.

Regardless of the cause of OCD, the most effective treatment does not explore events leading to the development of OCD. Instead, energies should be refocused on fighting back against the disorder through EX/RP (exposure and response prevention), a specific type of CBT.

An image of a person with OCD | What is the Root Cause of OCD?

How Does OCD Develop?

The first signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder typically present in adolescence. Less frequently, symptoms of OC emerge in childhood.

IOCDF lists the following complications for children and young people with OCD:

  • Disrupted routines
  • Stress-induced physical illness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Problems with schoolwork
  • Difficulties forming and maintaining relationships

When OCD develops in childhood, this happens more often among males than females. When OCD develops in adulthood, by contrast, males and females are impacted at equal rates.

The average age of onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder is 20.

There is no single psychological, genetic, cognitive, behavioral, or environmental factor that leads to the development of OCD.

Is OCD a Learned Behavior?

Some researchers theorize that behavioral conditioning can be a contributory factor in the development and maintenance of both obsessions and compulsions.

According to this theory, compulsions are learned responses that help the person with OCD to reduce or eliminate anxiety and discomfort associated with their obsessions. As an example, you may start washing your hands to mitigate the anxiety triggered by an obsession about germs. The temporary relief provided by the ritual of hand washing means you are more likely to engage in this behavior in the future.

Anxiety Treatment at Los Angeles Therapy Network

Most estimates suggest that one-third of the American population is affected by an anxiety disorder at some stage in life. Fortunately, anxiety disorders like OCD nearly always respond positively to treatment. Treatment usually takes the form of medication, psychotherapy, or both.

Engaging with appropriate anxiety treatment means you first need an accurate diagnosis. Your healthcare provider may refer you to a mental health specialist. Now that you know what is the root cause of OCD, you can begin to seek treatment. OCD, like all anxiety disorders, is diagnosed according to the criteria in DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

Although medications will not cure OCD or anxiety, SSRI antidepressants (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) can help alleviate symptoms.

For other anxiety disorders, benzodiazepines and beta blockers may also offer some respite from symptoms.

Psychotherapy can be an effective anxiety treatment for both adults and children. Both CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) are proven effective for treating anxiety disorders.

For the treatment of OCD, a specific type of CBT known as EX/RP is especially effective. EX/RP (exposure and response prevention) can help to reduce compulsive behaviors in those with OCD. EX/RP can be effective for those who do not respond to SSRI medications.Reach out to Los Angeles Therapy Network and start fighting back against the symptoms of OCD or anxiety. Call 833.604.1287 today.

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