8 Surprising Causes of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Your parents smothered you

image of wooden dummy with worried stressed thoughts. depression, obsessive compulsive, adhd, anxiety disorders concepttomertu/ShutterstockHelicopter parents tend to be overprotective (read: smothering), and this may increase vulnerability for OCD in their children, says Meredith E. Coles, PhD, professor of psychology at Binghamton University, State University of New York and director of the Binghamton Anxiety Clinic. Other potential risks for developing OCD or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder include having a lot of responsibly when you were young or having very rigid rules forced upon you. “If you go to a strict school where you don’t ever break the rules, it can predispose you to OCD.” It’s still too early to say anything definitive about these links, and genes also play a role in developing OCD which may help explain why not all children raised in these ways will develop the disorder. “We know a lot about treating OCD when you have it, but very little on how it develops and when it develops,” Dr. Coles says. Are you at risk? Here are eight signs that suggest you may have OCD.

Your sleeping habits and patterns

Yes, lack of sleep makes everything worse, and obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms are no exception, Dr. Coles says. “Your bedtime and the number of hours that you sleep predicts your ability to control or resist obsessive thoughts,” she explains. In one study, individuals with OCD who went to bed way past midnight had a harder time reining in obsessive thoughts. Another study found that and people who sleep less than the recommended eight hours a night may be more likely to suffer from intrusive, repetitive thoughts. Lightbox therapy may reset circadian rhythms and improve sleep quality and quantity, she says. “Research is ongoing, but sitting by a light box for 30 minutes a day can help pull the sleep cycle forward and decrease OCD symptoms.” Lightboxes are generally safe, but they should not be used by people with bipolar depression, certain eye problems, or sun sensitivity, Dr. Coles cautions. Find out what else happens to your body when you don’t get enough sleep.

Your inflamed brain

Scientists may have found the root of obsessive-compulsive disorder—inflammation. Brain scans of individuals with OCD showed that inflammation was 32 percent higher in six brain regions known to play a role in OCD than it was among their OCD-free counterparts. “This finding represents one of the biggest breakthroughs in understanding the biology of OCD and may lead to the development of new treatments,” said Jeffrey Meyer, MD, PhD, FRCP(C), senior author of the study and head of the neuroimaging program in mood and anxiety at the Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute in Toronto, in a press release. Now researchers are looking for low-cost blood markers and symptom measures to identify which individuals with OCD have the greatest level of inflammation and could benefit the most from treatment targeting inflammation. If this research is validated, medications developed to target brain inflammation in other disorders could be useful in treating OCD. “Work needs to be done to uncover the specific factors that contribute to brain inflammation, but finding a way to reduce inflammation’s harmful effects and increase its helpful effects could enable us to develop a new treatment much more quickly,” Dr. Meyer said. Stay tuned.

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Your fear of losing control

Colorful background with many crayons pastels lined up on azure aquamarine - Top view flat laymmstudiodesign/ShutterstockIf you fear loss of control, you may be more likely to engage in the checking behaviors that are a hallmark of OCD, finds a new research. In the study, students were randomly told they were at low or high risk of losing control over their thoughts and actions based upon false results from electroencephalogram (EEG) tests measuring electrical activity in the brain. Next, they were asked to complete a computer task that involved controlling the flow of images on a screen by using a sequence of key commands. At any time, they could push the space bar to check or confirm the key sequence. Those who were led to believe that their risk of losing control was higher engaged in far more checking than those who were led to believe that the risk was low. People with OCD need to check and re-check things such as turning of the stove or locking the door. “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 Adam Radomsky, Ph.D, a psychology researcher in the Faculty of Arts and Science and the Concordia University Research Chair in Anxiety and Related Disorders in Montreal. “This work has the potential to vastly improve our ability to understand and treat the full range of anxiety-related problems.” Find out how to stop being a control freak.

Your recent strep throat infection

Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS) is the name given to the sudden and dramatic appearance of OCD and/or tic disorders following a strep infection or the worsening of such after a strep infection. Most of the time PANDAS affects children aged 4 and 12. It occurs when the body’s immune system misfires in response to strep infection and targets the brain. Treating the strep with antibiotics is the best way to address PANDAS, according to the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland. While they will disappear gradually after treatment, symptoms may return if strep comes back. Antibiotic overuse can lead to drug-resistant bacteria. Learn when you really need antibiotics, and when to skip them.

Your pent-up rage

No, anger doesn’t cause OCD, but when someone with OCD internalizes anger and rage, symptoms may worsen, says David Straker, DO, a staff psychiatrist at several New York Hospitals including New York Presbyterian-Columbia. “Internalized anger, if it is not expressed (i.e. communicating one’s feelings, exercise, or another outlet), has to go somewhere often leading to depression, anxiety, OCD,” he says. “Not uncommonly OCD flares occur during stressful periods and when one is angry.” Seeking treatment is important as researchers grapple to find the cause of OCD. “OCD can be terribly debilitating, but treatments are available,” Dr. Straker says. Cognitive behavior therapy (time-limited courses of therapy to change the way you respond to negative thoughts), talk therapy as well as medications can all make a big difference in OCD, he says. Are you an angry bird? Try these simple tricks to chill and think before you act.

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Your fear of guilt

Intense fear of guilt may drive OCD, according to research in the journal Clinical Psychology Psychotherapy. The researchers report that people with OCD may perceive guilt to be more threatening than others, leading them to find it intolerable. Any thought or impulse that might inspire guilt may be met with extreme anxiety and compulsive behaviors. Importantly, it’s being super sensitive to guilt, rather than simply being guilt-prone, the study authors note. Here are 22 things you can do to stop feeling guilty all the time.

Your birth circumstances

If your mom smoked more than ten cigarettes a day while pregnant, you were delivered via C-section, born preterm or breech, or were unusually large or small as a baby, you may be at risk for developing OCD, research suggests. The more of these individual elements an infant experienced, the greater the odds of developing OCD, the study found. Researchers culled data on 2.4 million children born in Sweden between 1973 and 1996 and followed them through 2013. More than 17,000 developed OCD, and their average age at diagnosis was 23. While it is still too early to say how or even if any of these factors cause OCD, it makes sense to avoid smoking while pregnant. Not sure how to quit smoking cigarettes? Try one of these 20+ ways to stop smoking and start your path towards a healthier, smoke-free life.