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Causes of OCD

2-minute read

Why do some people develop obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Unfortunately, the answer is not clear. Like many mental disorders, it’s thought to develop due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. There are several theories about the causes of OCD, including:

  • genetic - having a first-degree relative with OCD may increase the chance of someone developing it. It's possible that some genes may give people a predisposition to OCD.
  • biological - functional, structural or chemical abnormalities in the brain are currently being researched. Some links have been found to irregular levels of serotonin, the chemical that sends messages to the brain.
  • environmental - some research suggests that OCD behaviours could be learned following a stressful event, such as catching a serious disease from contamination. OCD rituals may even be learned from others, such as from a parent with OCD.

Personality traits and distressing life events may also play a role in developing OCD. Researchers are currently looking at how environmental factors and stress may play a role. They are also working on developing better treatments for OCD by studying how the functioning of the brain affects feelings such as fear and anxiety. However, if you’re concerned that you or someone you know has OCD, it’s important to seek treatment rather than focusing on the cause.

Where to get help

If you are experiencing symptoms of OCD, you should talk to your doctor. Or you can contact one of the services below to speak with someone urgently or to chat online:

Last reviewed: January 2017

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