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OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) is a common mental health condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Men, women, and children can be affected. It isn’t entirely clear what causes OCD, nor its precise cause, but several theories exist to help explain how individuals in some phase of their life may develop it. For example, some people may start having symptoms around puberty, which usually begins in early adulthood.

The causes of OCD are complex and have several different contributing factors, including:

FAMILY HISTORY / GENETIC FACTORS

When a family member has OCD, it is more likely you could develop it because of your genes; a genetic factor is another possible cause of OCD; some researchers suggest that it runs in families. An OCD sufferer is four times more likely to have a family history of OCD than a person without the disorder. Nevertheless, studies haven’t identified specific genes responsible for OCD. It may be possible that a family history of OCD could mean that OCD sufferers develop the condition as a learned behavior.

BIOLOGICAL FACTORS

Specific studies of brain images have shown some functional abnormalities in the brain of OCD sufferers compared to healthy minds. For example, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder sufferers have differing blood flow levels in specific brain areas and lack activity in the area responsible for telling us that something is safe. Reduced activity in this area can result in OCD patients feeling threatened in typical situations.

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The lack of communication between some brain areas can result in more OCD symptoms. For example, a disrupted connection between the front of the brain and the basal ganglia, both parts are crucial for flexible thinking and goal-directed behaviors. These brain alterations make it hard for OCD patients to overcome compulsions, suggesting that OCD somehow connects to those brain changes. Nevertheless, it may be the case that OCD causes these brain changes and not the other way around. Being this true, the cause of OCD could be something different, could be a stressful environment.

ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS

People who have been bullied, abused, neglected, or have suffered stressful life events, may be more likely to develop OCD. It could start after a significant life event such as childbirth or a bereavement, and these events can trigger OCD in people who are already vulnerable to the condition.

Some other research shows that people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder frequently report suffering from a stressful or traumatic life event before the onset of symptoms. For example, a person could adopt an obsession or compulsive behavior after becoming seriously sick from contamination. Without treatment, stress may worsen the symptoms of OCD in people living with the condition. People who are neat, meticulous, too organized, with high personal standards, as well as anxious people or who have a strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others, may have a predisposition to this condition and in addition to their upbringing, environment, and life events, can trigger and lead them to develop OCD.

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LEARNED BEHAVIOR

There is another theory that states that OCD symptoms are a result of someone developing learned negative thoughts and behaviors, a theory that it is a learned behavior. All this can result from life experiences. If your parents had similar anxieties and compulsive behaviors, you might have learned it from them, or you may have grown up associating objects with fear. Due to learned avoidance, many people may also develop OCD, meaning that people with OCD have learned to avoid situations they fear, like preventing the ones related to obsessions because it triggers intense feelings of distress, fear, and anxiety. Compulsive behaviors like checking and washing are also forms of avoidance. The compulsive behavior may temporarily relieve the tension, but it may soon return, causing the cycle to begin again.

COGNITIVE THEORY

The misinterpretation of intrusive thoughts leads to OCD according to the cognitive theory of OCD; you may develop OCD if you interpret thoughts as meaning that you are, have been, or could be responsible for harm or its prevention. An inflated sense of responsibility in this way can be one of the causes of OCD. At some point, almost everyone can have unpleasant or unwanted thoughts, such as thinking they may have forgotten to lock the door of the house or car, or even unwelcome violent or offensive mental images; but if those unpleasant thoughts are persistent and they dominate your thinking to the extent it interrupts other thoughts, then you may have an obsession.

Individuals may control Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but if not, it can be distressing and significantly interfere with their life. Living with OCD can be difficult; getting medical help and finding support groups or other people with OCD are recommendable for information and advice.

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