Most people know OCD by its media portrayal of people who are obsessively afraid of germs, which causes them to compulsively wash their hands. OCD has many different manifestations than just germs and hand cleaning, however. It is also more common than people might think. But what causes OCD? Mental health experts have an explanation for the top causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Here Are 7 Things That Experts Think Cause People To Have OCD

1. Traumatic brain injury

When it comes to the brain, injuries are taken very seriously, especially in the brains of children and teens. Their brains are still developing, and disruptions to that development can cause all kinds of problems. One of the suspected causes of OCD symptoms developing, especially in children and adolescents, is a traumatic brain injury (TBI). One study found that within 12 months of a TBI, 30% of children developed OCD.

In addition to changes in cognitive function, behavior, and mobility, TBI can trigger symptoms of OCD including obsessions and compulsions. OCD following a TBI usually occurs soon, if not immediately, after the event has taken place,” says Owen Kelly, PhD, CPsych.

2. Inflammation

No, your sore joint isn’t the cause of OCD, but inflammation in the brain might just be. Recent studies have found that people who have OCD showed inflammation in certain parts of their brain. In fact, these people were found to have inflammation that was 32% higher in their brains than those who did not have OCD.

Our research showed a strong relationship between brain inflammation and OCD, particularly in the parts of the brain known to function differently in OCD. This finding represents one of the biggest breakthroughs in understanding the biology of OCD, and may lead to the development of new treatments,” says Dr. Jeffrey Meyer.

3. Overprotective parenting

Some parents are incredibly overprotective of their children, but being too involved may be causing OCD symptoms in their children. Children who had a lot of responsibility and were subject to extremely strict rules were more likely to express symptoms of OCD.

This isn’t just about parenting, either: “If you go to a strict school where you don’t ever break the rules, it can predispose you to OCD,” says professor of psychology, Meredith E. Coles, PhD.


4. Feeling out of control

People who struggle with a fear of losing control are more likely to develop OCD, research suggests. After all, the obsession and compulsion are part of maladaptive coping mechanisms and self-soothing rituals.

We hypothesize that people’s fears and beliefs about losing control may put them at risk for a range of problems, including panic disorder, social phobia, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and others,” says psychology researcher, Adam Radomsky, Ph.D.

Therefore, being afraid of losing control is the perfect breeding ground for someone to develop an obsessive-compulsive way to cope with that specific fear.

5. Feeling guilty

Fear of losing control isn’t the only way to develop obsessive-compulsive coping mechanisms. Research also finds that people who fear guilt may be more at risk for developing OCD. An obsessive thought that causes someone to feel guilty creates fear. As a result, it evolves into compulsive self-soothing.

In our opinion, OCD patients are not more prone to guilt than other people but they fear feelings of guilt, and many rituals and avoidance behaviors are motivated by the need to avoid this emotion in the future,” says Dr. Gabriele Melli.

There are also other fears that will lead people to OCD symptoms, but guilt and losing control are the most common.

6. Poor sleep habits

Our brains need sleep to recharge and repair. When we deny them sleep, all kinds of things can happen to our brains. OCD may develop when people have poor sleeping habits or sleeping patterns that vary from night to night.

Your bedtime and the number of hours that you sleep predicts your ability to control or resist obsessive thoughts,” adds Dr. Coles.

OCD is a mental illness that is developed in the brain. Therefore, it only makes sense that when we deny our brains one of the things it needs most, we put ourselves at risk for developing a compulsive disorder.

7. Issues in utero

There are many different issues during pregnancy that can put a child at risk for developing OCD in childhood. For example, smoking cigarettes during pregnancy, as well as being born prematurely, can put a child’s brain at risk for developing OCD.

According to a recent study by a group of scientists, “perinatal factors, especially maternal smoking during pregnancy, breech presentation, cesarean section, preterm birth, low birth weight, being large for gestational age, and Apgar distress scores, were associated with a higher risk of developing OCD…

Children have to get all the correct nutrients and spend the correct amount of time gestating in order for their brains to fully develop.  Moreover, any disruption to this can often cause the development of obsessive-compulsive behavior later in life.

Final thoughts

OCD is not something that has to control someone’s life. Some OCD is mild, and not all of it is debilitating. Like most things in life, OCD is a spectrum and often has to do with the things that happened to us, or that we experienced, as children. Untreated, less mild OCD can cause a lot of issues going about your day-to-day life. But here is the excellent news. With the proper treatment, you can control OCD. It’s important to know where OCD comes from so that those who find themselves developing these symptoms can properly get help to move forward in life.