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Are You Born With OCD? Here’s the facts…

How do you handle stress and anxiety? Well, for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), this is an everyday struggle. This non-stop, involuntary and repetitive anxiety condition is not only intrusive and unwanted but also life-altering. In other words, it can cause a lot of damage, if left unchecked. OCD does not discriminate. 

People of all ages, health statuses, genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, cultures, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds are at risk of developing OCD. And, while it is important to learn about the various facets of OCD – the definition, the signs and symptoms, and available OCD treatments, the only way to really understand this anxiety condition is to determine the cause of it. 

If you suspect that you have OCD or have already been diagnosed with it, you may wonder (and who could blame you) what makes you more susceptible to developing it, than other people. Another pertinent question that is likely to pop into your mind at one point is, “Was I born with OCD?” 

In other words, “Is OCD genetic or hereditary, or is something else at play?” If you are perplexed as to how you “got” OCD, you are not alone. Most people with the condition have pondered the same question at one time. In this article, I will help you determine if you were born with OCD or acquired it in some way, so you can better manage your symptoms.


What is OCD & What Causes It?

Believe it or not, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition. In fact, OCD affects one in 40 adults and one in 100 children. OCD typically presents by the ages of 19-20, however, it can arise before or after this age. In fact, children younger than 10 years old (early onset OCD) and older than 40 years old (late-onset OCD) have been diagnosed with OCD. 

Children, who develop early onset OCD tend to be predominantly female, have more severe OCD symptoms, experience a gradual escalation of symptoms, and have a higher risk of tic disorders. Conversely, adults, who develop late-onset OCD tend to be equally distributed between men and women, have mild-to-moderate OCD symptoms, experience symptoms that appear suddenly (often due to an OCD trigger), and have a higher risk of developing depression or another anxiety condition – than those without OCD. 

Understand, however, that most people with OCD exhibit symptoms earlier than later. In fact, one-third of OCD sufferers began showing symptoms before the age of 15. Although the exact cause of OCD is unknown, researchers suggest that biological, genetic, and environmental factors contribute to the development and severity of this condition. 

OCD is a chronic condition that involves obsessions and/or compulsions. Some people with OCD. Especially those with pure OCD may go on to have happy and productive lives, while others may suffer from an ongoing OCD cycle of non-stop obsessions and compulsions.

Was I Born With OCD?

It is possible. 

Some questions that you may have when it comes to OCD are, “Is OCD hereditary?” “Was I born with it?” And, “Can it be passed from one family member to another?” It is normal to ponder these questions when you have a mental or physical condition. And, although researchers have been unable to isolate a specific gene that causes OCD, it appears that this condition runs in families, suggesting that there is a genetic component at play. 

Studies indicate that people, who have a parent or sibling with OCD have a high risk of also developing the condition. Researchers suggest that a genetic neurotransmitter defect may be a major contributor to OCD. Specifically, neurotransmitters (i.e., serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate) are chemical messengers, responsible for communicating with various parts of the brain. 

Genetic defects or low levels of these neurotransmitters can trigger or worsen OCD symptoms. Studies have shown that a mixture of cognitive-behavioral therapy and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may “boost” the production of these neurotransmitters in the brain and/or “correct” the faulty communication between brain cells.

Researchers have discovered from OCD studies involving identical twins and close relatives that OCD likely stems from a combination of genetics and environmental factors. However, the greatest risk appears to be a genetic link to the condition. As a result, researchers continue to search for the specific gene(s) linked to OCD.

Certain groups or versions of genes, especially those that regulate serotonin production (a serotonin deficiency or low serotonin levels has been linked to OCD), the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (a protein responsible for brain development, function, and preservation), dopamine, and glutamate (two more important neurotransmitters). However, how this neurotransmitter/gene combo contributes to the development and progression of OCD is still largely unknown. 

More research is needed to determine the exact relationship between genes and OCD.

Are There Other Possible Causes of OCD?

Yes, there are! 

Listed below are possible factors that could trigger or worsen OCD symptoms:

  • Biological Factors– Some studies suggest that OCD may stem from factors unrelated to genes, such as changes in body chemistry and brain functions.
  • Environmental Factors – Some researchers suggest that OCD may stem from family’s and/or society’s attitudes, beliefs, and expectations. These learned attitudes can cause “faulty” thought processes.
  • Too Much or Too Little Serotonin – A serotonin deficiency or excessive serotonin may trigger or exacerbate OCD symptoms. 
  • Trauma or Emotional Upheaval – Some researchers believe that trauma or emotional upheaval, such as child abuse, child neglect, child abandonment, the loss of a loved one, pet, or friend, a chronic illness, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc., may predispose a person to OCD. 
  • Infections – Some studies have found that children that have contracted a streptococcal bacterial infection (i.e., “strep throat”) have a high risk of developing pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder (PANDAS), a rare complication of the infection that can cause OCD.

    According to researchers, PANDAS occurs when the brain interacts with certain antibodies (an induced immune system response) designed to protect the body against the infection. This autoimmune response “activates” OCD in some children. Experts suggest that brain structural and functional changes following strep-related PANDAS complications may trigger OCD symptoms, but more research is needed.

  • Brain Functioning Variances: Some researchers suggest that “variances” or “differences” in a person’s brain functioning (i.e., in the frontal cortex region) may account for the development and severity in people with OCD. However, more research is needed to state that these “variances” are one of the true causes of OCD.
  • Pregnancy & the Aftermath: Perinatal OCD and postpartum OCD can occur during pregnancy and after she delivers a child. This occurs as a result of rapidly increasing, fluctuating, or declining hormone levels. A sudden boost in oxytocin, “the stress hormone,” is also thought to play a role in the development and severity of OCD during and after pregnancy.

Note: Studies suggest that autism and OCD are somehow related, which suggests that autism could be a contributor to OCD or vice versa. According to a 2020 study, people, who fall on the autism disorder spectrum, are twice as likely to develop OCD – as compared to people who do not have autism.

What Are Some Genetic Risk Factors?

As mentioned previously, OCD appears to be linked to a specific gene or a group of genes. Therefore, people, who have at least one first-degree relative with OCD have a high risk of also developing OCD. Specifically, people, who have a relative with OCD, are twice as likely to develop it themselves. 

This risk dramatically increases when the relative developed OCD early in life, for instance, between the ages of eight and 12. In this case, the person is 10x more likely to develop OCD, as compared to a person, who does not have a relative with early onset OCD. 

Increased neural activity in certain regions of the brain, such as the orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and striatum, commonly found in people with OCD, may contribute to the condition.

According to studies, four specific genes, along with increased neuroactivity in the striatum, may trigger OCD. The striatum is responsible for making decisions and determining if a situation is safe or dangerous. Interruptions in this process could mistakenly associate certain stimuli with harm or danger, triggering anxiety and OCD symptoms.

As mentioned previously, serotonin also appears to play a significant role in the development and severity of OCD symptoms. Serotonin is a mood-boosting neurotransmitter that appears to prevent or reduce OCD symptoms, especially when combined with SSRIs. SSRIs regulate the amount of serotonin in the brain. Too much serotonin or too little serotonin can trigger OCD –in some people. SSRIs are FDA-approved to treat OCD because they are safe and effective.

Gender is also a genetic factor in OCD. Although males and females are roughly diagnosed equally with the condition, males tend to experience OCD at an earlier age. Keep in mind however that some researchers suggest that females have a higher prevalence rate than males, for OCD

According to various family studies, people with a first-degree relative with a mental health condition, such as an anxiety condition, like OCD or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, panic use disorder, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or a mood disorder, like major depressive disorder (MDD) or bipolar disorder have an increased risk of developing OCD. Other conditions that could predispose someone to develop OCD include attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), tic disorders, and substance abuse or addiction.

Did you know, our our self-help course has helped thousands of OCD sufferers better manage their symptoms?

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How Are OCD Symptoms Managed?

The most effective way to manage OCD is with OCD therapies and/or medications. Lifestyle changes, natural remedies, and self-help tools can be combined with OCD therapies and medications or used alone in some cases. 

The standard OCD treatment is exposure response prevention (ERP) therapy, a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), CBT, and/or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), however, trauma counseling, addiction counseling, family therapy, and/or FDA-approved transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) may also be used to treat OCD. TMS uses electricity to regulate neural activity in the brain, for instance, in the anterior cingulate cortex region.

Online forums may also help an OCD sufferer better manage his or her symptoms. OCD forums can provide advice, information, and support to someone grappling with OCD. OCD forums typically involve people, who have OCD, or people, who have loved ones with OCD. 

Listed below are sides that offer OCD forums: 

  • International OCD Foundation forums

Support groups can help you manage your OCD symptoms. Support groups, like online forums, can provide you with some much-needed OCD support, fellowship, understanding, compassion, and advice. The International OCD Foundation has a support group directory to help you find OCD support groups in your area. Some OCD support groups are offered online, in-person, or in both formats. 

Some OCD support group meetings even take place over the phone. Understand, however, that OCD support groups are not the same as “formal therapy,” which means the groups may not always be conducted by trained mental health professionals – i.e., trained and licensed psychotherapists. Still, these groups can provide you with a “sense of belonging.” 

Surrounding yourself with a group of people, who truly understand how you feel or what you are going through can help you recover from OCD. Support groups, like online forums, are free and an effective OCD treatment approach, if you are not quite ready to seek “formal OCD help.”

Lifestyle changes like getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy foods, and getting regular exercise may help reduce your OCD symptoms (obsessions and compulsions). Likewise, hypnosis, and/or some natural remedies, like vitamins and minerals, CBD, or yoga can help you keep your OCD symptoms in check. 

Self-help tools, like mindfulness mediation, OCD books and workbooks, journaling, OCD management apps, and/or online OCD treatment programs, like Impulse Therapy can also help you get a grip on your OCD so it does not continue to disrupt your life, happiness, and well-being.

In cases where OCD does not respond to standard OCD treatments (treatment-resistant OCD), a doctor may prescribe SSRIs for your OCD symptoms. If SSRIs do not work, then you may prescribe another medication, like an SNRI, MAOI, or an antipsychotic medication to wrangle your OCD symptoms under control.

Although, the methods listed above can help most OCD sufferers effectively manage their symptoms, sometimes more intensive OCD interventions are needed to help an OCD sufferer reclaim his or her life. These interventions may include outpatient or inpatient (residential) therapy at a treatment center. In severe cases of OCD, hospitalization may be warranted to gain control over your OCD symptoms.

If you are having a hard time garnering success from your OCD treatments, do not fret. Sometimes, it takes a little while to find the right treatment combination for success. Keep communicating with your doctor until you find the right OCD treatment for your form of OCD. It will happen. Do not give up because OCD relief is right around the corner.


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Our self-help OCD therapy course has helped 1000s of OCD sufferers since 2018.

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DR. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham has a B.A. in English, an M.M.F.T in Marriage and Family Therapy (Psychology), and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She is currently a medical, health & wellness contributor, copywriter, and psychological consultant

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