Skip to Main Content

What causes OCD?

February 15, 2022 Posted in: Blogs , English


If you’ve heard the terms OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder in pop culture, you probably associate this condition with a need for tidiness, cleanliness, and organization. However, as many who have OCD know, it can be much different.

What is OCD?

Essentially, this condition causes people to have unwanted obsessions or thoughts ranging from annoying to extremely distressing. These obsessions can lead to activities the person has to do after, whether repeating a phrase in their head, washing their hands, or something else entirely. 

Are there multiple causes of OCD?

Finding the cause of a condition can often lead to focused treatments. Currently, there is no known cause of OCD, but there are theories about how this mental illness begins. Let’s take a look at a few ideas.


Doctors and researchers have noticed that people with a first-degree relative with OCD are more likely to develop it themselves. Therefore, they hypothesize that there is a genetic component to this condition.

Childhood infections

Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections (PANDAS) is a rare condition that affects prepubescent children. Essentially, a small percentage of children who have some sort of streptococcal infection (including strep throat and scarlet fever) tend to develop sudden signs of OCD. Kids with PANDAS may also experience new mood changes, separation anxiety, joint pain, tics, and more. These symptoms may worsen if there is a subsequent strep infection.

Brain structure and health

Many studies on OCD have looked to where it all takes place—the brain—and found some very interesting insights with the help of imaging technologies, including:

  • Differently sized brain structures. Scientists saw that people with OCD had smaller and thinner cortexes than people without OCD. The cortex is responsible for thought, emotion, attention, cognition, memory, and more. They also found that the part of the brain that controls response inhibition, the parietal lobe, was thinner in people with OCD.
  • Brain inflammation. Another study, while much smaller than the one above, found that people with OCD had higher rates of neuroinflammation.

Stress or trauma

Researchers have noted a connection between trauma, stress, and OCD. However, it is still unclear whether these upsetting events alone have the capability of causing OCD to develop or some underlying mechanism has to also exist, whether a genetic predisposition or unique brain structures. 

Can OCD be prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent OCD from developing. However, if you notice the onset of symptoms in yourself or a loved one, schedule an appointment with a St. Joseph and Texas A&M Health Network primary care physician. They can discuss your concerns and refer you to a specialist for additional care.   

Recent Updates

5 recipes for a healthy summer picnic

MAY 24, 2022

Quinoa salad, lemonade, and other healthy recipes to include in your summer picnic basket

Read More Additional information about Five recipes for a healthy summer picnic | St. Luke’s Health

Can you live a normal life with scoliosis? Here's everything you need to know.

MAY 24, 2022

Scoliosis may sound severe, but not all cases require treatment or surgery, and patients can go on living normal, active lives. Learn more by reading this blog.

Read More Additional information about Can you live a normal life with scoliosis?

How can you talk to children about the importance of mental health?

APR 25, 2022

Mental health is a priority, especially with children. Find out how you can talk to children about staying mentally healthy.

Read More Additional information about Talk to children about mental health | St. Joseph Health

Find a Doctor

Looking for a doctor? Perform a quick search by name or browse by specialty.