What are the causes of OCD? Genetic and environmental factors

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It is believed that the causes of OCD are mainly genetic, but it is also more complicated than that.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health problem that can make you feel like you’re caught in a persistent cycle of obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions are recurring, intrusive thoughts, urges, or images that can cause feelings of distress. Compulsions are the behaviors that a person uses to avoid or get rid of unwanted thoughts and feelings.

But what causes these symptoms?

Researchers believe that a combination of genetic factors, temperament, brain structure, and environmental factors contribute to this condition.

Genes seem to play an important role in the development of OCD.

Research with twins and families shows that OCD has a high rate of heritability. For example, rates of OCD are higher in identical twins compared to fraternal twins.

Twin studies also show a genetic link between OCD and:

In fact, the same study estimates that the heritability of OCD and similar conditions could be as high as 50%.

For example, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) appear to be closely related to OCD. A to study found that people with autism were twice as likely to be diagnosed with OCD later on. Those who were diagnosed with OCD early were almost four times more likely to be diagnosed with ASD later in life.

In another family to study over three generations, the researchers found that OCD occurred more often in families where at least one person had OCD than in families in the control group.

The likelihood of OCD increased when first-degree family members, such as a mother, father, brother, or child, suffered from OCD, tics, affective disorders, or anxiety disorders.

At the genome level studies also provided information on specific genes that may contribute to OCD. But individually, these genes may contribute only a small portion of the total genetic risk. Much of the specific genetic risk of OCD is still unknown.

The structure of the brain may also play a role in OCD.

Brain scans spectacle that the structure of the brain in people with OCD may be slightly different than in people without OCD.

However, some of these differences could also be drug related.

Certain personality traits may be more or less common in people with OCD.

Older research found that people with OCD had more harm avoidance traits, but lower levels of the following traits than people without OCD:

  • autonomy or the ability to adapt to new situations
  • addiction to rewards, or the tendency to respond to social rewards, such as approval
  • cooperation

Another twin to study looked at three aspects of obsessive-compulsive symptoms:

  • verification
  • obsessions that involved aggression
  • fear of contamination

The study explored the connection between these symptoms and the personality traits of extraversion and neuroticism, or the tendency to have a bad mood.

While all three symptoms of OCD were linked to neuroticism, their links to extraversion were minimal.

Environmental factors such as stress, trauma, or even bacteria can also play a role in the onset of OCD.

It is well known that stress can trigger OCD. For example, it is often linked to major life changes, such as:

  • divorced
  • lose a loved one
  • school difficulties
  • relationship problems
  • abuse

an older one to study found a relationship between childhood trauma and the severity of OCD, but the link was not direct. Instead, he was influenced by difficulties with attachment and processing emotions.

Alexithymia, or difficulty identifying and naming emotions, has also played a role in the number of OCD symptoms a person experiences and their severity.

Another environmental risk factor for children is PANDAS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcus). This is a rare subtype of childhood OCD that occurs when the strep bacteria cause an immune reaction, resulting in OCD-like symptoms.

Symptoms of PANDAS appear to be similar to those of OCD that appear in childhood. But the beginning can be very different.

Typical childhood OCD often begins when the child is 8 to 12 years old, and symptoms increase over time. PANDAS can begin between the ages of 4 and 14 and its symptoms are more sudden and intense.

Several factors could mean a greater chance of having OCD. They understand:

  • Genetic factors. Your chances of having OCD may be higher if a close family member is living with OCD.
  • Have another mental health problem. Your chances of developing OCD may be higher if you live with an anxiety disorder, eating disorder, or ADHD, for example.
  • Stress. It can trigger the onset of OCD in someone already at risk.
  • Pregnancy. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can trigger OCD in some people.
  • Age. OCD is more common in older teens and young adults, although people of all ages – except infants – can get it.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), OCD is listed in its own category. It’s a cash of DSM-4, which classified OCD as an anxiety disorder.

This change is due to new research and evidence showing common threads to a number of conditions related to OCD.

For example, other conditions in the new category, such as body dysmorphic disorder and hoarding, also involve obsessive thoughts or repetitive behaviors.

So what exactly would a mental health professional look for to diagnose OCD?

You could be diagnosed with OCD if:

  • You experience obsessions, compulsions, or both.
  • These symptoms take a long time in your day.
  • Obsessions and compulsions interfere with your social or professional life.

Mental health professionals also check that your symptoms cannot be better explained by another condition, such as generalized anxiety disorder or body dysmorphic disorder.

They will also rate your level of understanding of your obsession and beliefs. The insight levels in OCD exist on a spectrum.

People with a good understanding of their symptoms tend to realize that beliefs caused by OCD do not reflect reality. Meanwhile, someone with absent vision might believe that these thoughts correspond to reality.

OCD is probably caused by various factors, such as:

  • genetic
  • brain structure
  • temperament

Environmental factors such as stress or trauma can also cause OCD if you are already more likely to develop it.

Living with OCD can be challenging as it can affect many or all areas of life. But with the right treatment, you can reduce your symptoms and relieve stress from obsessions and compulsions.

Treatment for OCD can include a wide range of therapies and medications. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a good place to start.


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