Causes, Signs, & Effects of OCD

Are you concerned that you or a loved one may be struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder? Learn about the causes, signs, and effects to identify whether professional treatment may be necessary.

Understanding OCD

Learn about OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychological condition that occurs when an individual suffers from constant anxious thoughts that lead to the execution of compulsive actions in an effort to calm these thoughts. While individuals with OCD are attempting to reduce their anxiety, the anxiety and compulsive behaviors they engage in are unrelenting.

Those who develop OCD often exhibit persistent behaviors that include repeating actions, repeating words, counting, moving objects, and/or checking and rechecking items in a specific manner. In most instances, these compulsions do not actually address the individual’s obsessions or anxieties surrounding them.

With the correct treatment, those individuals who battle symptoms of OCD can relieve themselves of these actions once and for all. Even the most intense cases of OCD can be treated through the provision of comprehensive care.


OCD statistics

The American Psychiatric Association states that 1.2% of the American population are diagnosed with OCD each year. Also, adult women have a greater risk of developing this disorder; however, OCD is more common in men during childhood and adolescent ages.

Those who grapple with OCD tend to struggle with anxiety, too. Roughly 76% of those who have OCD also have a diagnosis of one or more types of anxiety disorders.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for OCD

Genetic and environmental causes can add to one’s risk of developing OCD; however, concrete causes are still being researched. Some causes and risk factors can include:

Genetic: One’s genetics are viewed as both a cause and a risk factor for OCD. If an individual has a relative with OCD, he or she is twice as likely to develop the same condition. Those with a direct relative or immediate family member with OCD are ten times more likely to struggle with it as well.

Environmental: Sexual and physical trauma or abuse during childhood can increase one’s odds of developing OCD. Infections and autoimmune diseases can also be an OCD risk factor.

Risk Factors:

  • Physical or sexual abuse during childhood
  • Traumatic life experiences
  • Family history of mental health disorders
  • Being overly self-conscious
  • Being plagued by negative thoughts and emotions

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of OCD

Similar to other mental health conditions, the signs and symptoms of OCD can vary from individual to individual. Keep in mind the following symptoms:

Symptoms of obsessions: When an individual struggles with obsessions, he or she experiences persistent anxious and invasive thoughts that, in some cases, the individual knows are not rational. These obsessions can come from personal concerns linked to:

  • Unwanted thoughts
  • Germs, viruses, and pollution that can cause illness
  • Terrifying events, trauma, or accidents
  • Practices and requirements based on religion or beliefs
  • Creating symmetry and balance
  • Illnesses of others or oneself

Symptoms of compulsions: An individual will develop compulsions in an attempt to control obsessions and anxiety connected to their obsessions. However, compulsions might not always be logically linked to obsessions, and can include the following:

  • Checking on light switches, burners, electric connections, and door locks repeatedly
  • Keeping items in order and organized
  • Counting and numbering things
  • Frequent hand-washing or cleaning one’s body or environment
  • Saying words out loud and repeating them
  • Avoiding situations, places, and certain scenarios


Effects of OCD

If an individual with OCD symptoms does not obtain treatment, their condition can continue to worsen and cause negative consequences, including:

  • Development or worsening of mental health disorders
  • Conflicts and loss of relationship with friends and family
  • Physical signs such as skin wounds from too much washing
  • Symptoms that worsen over time
  • Problems with maintaining or excelling in one’s professional or academic life
  • Financial troubles
  • Substance use and abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or tendencies

Co-Occurring Disorders

OCD and co-occurring disorders

Individuals with OCD might also grapple with other mental health conditions. Other mental illnesses that often co-occur with OCD include:

  • Tourette’s disorder
  • Trichotillomania
  • Substance use disorder
  • Tic disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Excoriation (skin-picking) disorder
  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Depressive disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder

The mental health conditions listed above can increase complications of OCD. However, with the appropriate treatment, an individual can recover.

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