OCD Causes: Is OCD Genetic, Hereditary?

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What Causes Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Experts still aren't clear on obsessive-compulsive disorder causes, but research suggests both genetic, physiological, and environmental factors may all have a role as causes of OCD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a life-long mental health condition in which the person suffers from obsessive thoughts and acts out with repetitive compulsive behaviors. Depending on the severity of the condition, individuals with various types of OCD, including pure OCD, may live fairly successful lives or become debilitated by their obsessions and compulsions.

Is OCD Genetic? Is OCD Hereditary?

Is OCD genetic? Is OCD hereditary? Can it be passed from family member to family member? Many people with OCD or who know someone suffering from it ask these questions. Although experts have not found a specific gene, research indicates that obsessive-compulsive disorder runs in families, pointing to the likelihood that genetics do play a role in its development. In fact, people who have a parent or sibling that has OCD have a considerably higher risk of developing the disorder.

Ongoing studies point to a genetic defect in the way the front area of the brain communicates with deeper areas. These deeper structures use serotonin, a chemical messenger. Images of the brain in some people with OCD show that these defective communication circuits work more normally with serotonin-based medications or cognitive behavior therapy.

Other Suspected Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Causes

In addition to the OCD hereditary component, some of the other suspected obsessive-compulsive disorder causes include:

  • Biological – Some research indicates that OCD may develop due to non-genetically related changes in the body's chemistry and brain functions.
  • Environmental – One factor in OCD development may involve experiences and attitudes learned in a family setting. These experiences and learned attitudes may cause faulty thought patterns.
  • Insufficient serotonin – Insufficient levels of the brain chemical messenger, serotonin, may play a role in OCD. These people do not have defective brain structures but have too little serotonin for some reason.
  • Emotional trauma – Some researchers believe that severe emotional upheaval, such as bereavement or suffering abuse may contribute to the development of OCD, especially in predisposed individuals.
  • Infection – Some evidence suggests that children and young teens developed OCD after suffering from severe streptococcal bacterial infection. Scientists theorize that the body's own antibodies react with the brain, triggering, but not directly causing OCD in predisposed children. (More about OCD in children)

Researchers continue to look into obsessive-compulsive disorder causes in an effort to better understand how to effectively treat and, possibly, prevent the condition.

article references

APA Reference
Gluck, S. (2022, January 10). OCD Causes: Is OCD Genetic, Hereditary?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: January 15, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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