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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Causes and Symptoms

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Causes and Symptoms

There is no identified cause for OCD, hence it can be difficult to diagnose. Early detection can help manage the illness better and pave the way for a steady recovery. With more than 3 decades of experience in treating OCD, We at Cadabams follow an evidence-based treatment approach and curate a personalised treatment plan which caters to all your needs.

 We understand that OCD doesn’t affect the individual alone, but affects the family too. Our experts in Family Therapy and caregivers support ensure well-being of the caregivers for a holistic recovery of the individual. At Cadabams, we care for you.

battling ocd causes

It is normal, on occasion to go and double-check the things that we might have missed or not remembered. For instance, checking whether the door is locked or not, checking the pocket for a wallet, etc but what if this loop keeps repeating and makes you anxious and stressed?.

Then it is a medical condition  known as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Around 2.3% of the population from the ages of 18- 54 suffer from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The mental disorder is characterized by obsessions which are repetitive ideas and thoughts that are unwanted and distressing and compulsions which are ritualistic actions carried out to deal with those obsessions.

In this condition, the individual is completely occupied or influenced by obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours. This article will help you understand OCD symptoms with practical examples. 

Individuals with obsessions and/or compulsions – 

  • Face great distress and anxiety, even when they know that their obsessions are unreasonable.
  • Engage in timeconsuming activities.
  • Face interferences in daily living, areas like work, school, home, social activities and personal relationships.

Causes of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) 

Even with extensive research conducted there is no definite cause found to identify why an individual develops Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). However, scientists and researchers believe OCD causes would likely be resulted due to a combination of the belowgiven reasons –

  • Genetic causes

Research explains individuals who suffer from OCD mostly had parents, siblings or other family members who had suffered from OCD themselves and also these individuals have a high chance of passing it off to their offspring.

  • Neurological causes

Scientists found that there are certain parts of the brain that are different in individuals who have OCD than individuals who don’t.

The circuit in the brain is activated to wash one’s hands post using a bathroom, this is an urge that arises post an appropriate behaviour. But an individual who suffers from OCD has difficulty switching off these urges from the circuit, and hence causes them to continue, with repeating the behaviour, i.e. continuous hand-washing.

Serotonin is a chemical present in the brain, responsible for judgment, decision making and planning areas of the brain that is associated with body movements. Studies suggest that an imbalance in serotonin levels increases the chances of developing OCD. 

Dysfunctions in the glutamatergic system also show associations with OCD, schizophrenia and autism.


PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections. It is a particular type of OCD that occurs in children as a result of an infection that has harmed the body. The symptoms of OCD occur very suddenly, causing a severe impact on the child’s life.

  • Behavioural causes

The behavioural perspective implies that individuals with OCD tend to associate particular objects or situations with fear and learn to develop a ‘ritual’ to avoid the triggers of fear. This is known as the fear-avoidance (ritual) cycle.

For example, an individual who used to use a public bathroom, when under stress, may connect that if used the toilet seat they will catch germs. And so they may begin to entirely avoid using public bathrooms and if necessary to use public bathrooms, they may begin an elaborate cleaning ritual, like cleaning the seat, etc.

These behaviours or rituals could provide temporary relief from feeling fear but it is never dealt with, and over time it only gets reinforced.

  • Cognitive causes

This perspective explains how individuals with OCD misread their thoughts. They tend to have exaggerated thought processes.

For example, an individual who is looking after a child and who is under extreme pressure may begin to have an intrusive thought of harming the child. Most individuals would disregard the thought but an individual who suffers from OCD tends to exaggerate the significance of the thought. And believes that they may pose a threat to the child and then feel anxious and disgusted towards themselves.

In order to combat these thoughts, they would begin a ritual like praying, or something similar.

  • Environmental causes

Stressors in the environment may trigger OCD in individuals who have a genetic predisposition to it.

It increases the risk of developing OCD up to 53-73%.

Any traumatic life event could trigger the onset of OCD, such as abuse, accidents, changes in living conditions, death of a loved one, issues or stress at work or personal relations and health problems.

Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

  • Obsessive behaviour:

The individual gets obsessed with unwanted or preoccupied thinking, situations or ideas which are responsible for causing anxiety and distress.

Themes of obsessive behaviour:

  • holding the fear of dirt or contamination
  • performing paternalism arrangement for a longer period
  • aggressive thoughts of harming others
  • irrational thoughts on sexual or religious subjects

Examples of obsessions symptoms:

  • Fear of touching objects thinking that they are contaminated by the usage of others
  • Cross-checking whether the door is locked or whether the stove is turned off
  • Suffering intense stress when a particular object isn’t placed in order
  • Thinking of hurting others when the condition is getting uncomfortable
  • Might suffer unpleasant sexual images looping in mind


  • Compulsion symptoms:

The behaviour that drives individuals to perform a repetitive action is OCD compulsion. The individual will try to build the loop action to prevent or reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession.

Themes of Compulsion behaviour:

  • Cleaning and washing
  • Checking
  • Following a pattern of orderliness
  • Intense repeat action
  • Doubting

Examples of compulsion symptoms:

  • Keep washing hands until skin becomes bleached
  • Repeated checking of things
  • Follow some pattern to count
  • Murmuring the prayer or words repeatedly
  • Arranging similar objects to face the same


Symptoms and Signs of OCD in the Elderly

Obsessions are a kind of images, thoughts and ideas that come to one’s mind, these thoughts are extremely distressing and the individual finds themselves unable to control them. OCD symptoms and signs include obsessions and compulsions.

  • Obsessions:

A few symptoms of obsessions include:

  • Unwanted thoughts, ideas and images 
  • These thoughts and ideas  cause extreme distress to the individual.
  • The individual has made failed attempts to avoid them.
  • These thoughts, ideas and images are time-consuming.


  • Compulsions:

These are the mental acts or behaviours an individual is driven to perform ritualistically as a result of the obsessions, these compulsions provide temporary relief. A few symptoms of compulsion include:

  • The acts are directed to reduce the distress caused by the obsessions.
  • If the ritualistic act is not performed, the individual feels guilty or thinks that something awful is going to happen.
  • The individual has to complete it if started, they cannot leave it incomplete.
  • These ritualistic acts are time-consuming.
  • The relief experienced after performing the act is temporary.

Some more OCD Symptoms in Adults

OCD symptoms and signs may differ from individual to individual and depend on the type of obsessions or compulsions the individual is experiencing. Here are the symptoms of OCD with regards to the different types of OCD:

Obsessions of harm: Here the individual constantly feels that something bad is going to happen. For example, they may think that if they do not perform a ritualistic behaviour their family would die. And in order to counter this thought, they have the compulsion to check. This may include the following:

  • Constantly checking if the doors are locked before sleeping.
  • Checking multiple times if the stove is turned off.
  • Not able to leave the house as the person comes back to check if the doors are locked.
  • Waking up in the middle of the night to check things around the house.

Obsessions of contamination: Here the individual has the fear of getting contamination which might lead to sickness and eventually death. This usually comes with the compulsion of cleaning or washing. The compulsions may include:


  • Washing hands or taking bath multiple times or whenever they touch someone/something new.
  • Washing clothes and cleaning the house multiple times.
  • In extreme cases, the individual would scrub themselves to the extent that they start bleeding or the individual may use extremely hot water to bathe.
  • At times they may also avoid eating as they would believe that the food might be contaminated or if they open their mouth germs might get in.


Hoarding: Here the individual tends to collect everything possible and does not discard them. They feel that it might be of value later and hence keep storing it. This may include:


  • They may collect books, clothes, plastic bags and anything.
  • When they are separated from the items they store, they experience extreme distress.
  • They store things to the extent that it starts cluttering and makes the living space smaller, which becomes difficult to live in.


Obsessions of symmetry: Here the individual wants all their surroundings to be in order. This usually comes with the compulsion of arranging and counting. This may include:


  • Arranging everything around the house or workplace in a particular manner or in a particular direction.
  • Buying clothes only of a particular colour.
  • Counting anything such as they may count the number of steps to places.
  • Counting minutes to complete a task

Lastly, there can be cases wherein the individual only has obsessions without any compulsive behaviour. Such as the individual may have aggressive obsessions like images of stabbing a person but they might not have a ritualistic act to counter it.

OCD Treatment in India

Treatments specified to the above OCD causes and symptoms are available and can help both in controlling and managing Obsessions as well as Compulsions. OCD often starts in teenage or young adulthood. The severity of the symptoms grows as the years progress throughout life. OCD treatment options are very hopeful and help manage the illness well. Remember you are not the only one who suffers from OCD and hence it is okay to talk about it and seek help.

OCD is a chronic disorder and lack of proper treatment can often lead to a relapse. However, with professional treatment, it can be managed efficiently.  

Obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment and management of OCD are largely categorized into 2 layers. The first layer is recommended for those who have just been diagnosed with the condition, and a specific combination of psychotherapy and medication can help treat the condition and manage the regressive compulsions.

The second layer is when the doctor recommends an intensive approach when Outpatient methods are not effective. 

Some effective OCD treatments include – 

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)– This therapy focuses on the individual’s thoughts and behavior. Here, the assumption is that our thoughts directly influence our behavior, hence the focus of CBT is to identify the unhelpful thoughts, break them down, and try to bring a change in them.
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) – ERP is a type of CBT. It takes advantage of a natural process called habituation. Habituation occurs when an individual stops responding to a stimulus like a thought/ place/ person or action with continuous exposure.
  • Medications – Medications are also prescribed to individuals with OCD; it helps reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety. People who suffer from OCD also show symptoms of depression in them. In these cases, antidepressants are also prescribed.
  • Psychosurgery – These are surgeries done in the brain. Psychosurgery is only recommended when none of the therapies or medications shows any improvement. Although seen in very rare cases, psychosurgeries can help alleviate OCD effectively.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy – Known as ECT. This therapy involves passing an electric current through the brain; this brings about a change in the brain chemicals which in turn brings a change in behavior. ECT is also recommended when therapies do not work and are done only under professional supervision.

Why Cadabams?

Our multispecialty team of experts in psychosocial rehabilitation, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) and family-focused therapy ensure that you receive the right treatment for you and your family.  

We have over three decades of expertise in handling the most complex and severe cases of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. With our post-care services, we ensure that our professionals are with you every step of the treatment and recovery journey. 

Our residential center for OCD treatment is fully-furnished with world-class treatment options and 24×7 care. If you or your loved one is suffering from OCD or is showing any of the symptoms above, reach out to us at +91 96111 94949. We are here to help!

FAQs on OCD: All your Queries Answered

How prevalent is OCD in children and adolescence?

Various studies indicate that OCD affects nearly 2% to 3% of children when they are in their late adolescence. The number of children that develop OCD spikes high at puberty and then again during early adulthood, and boys tend to have an earlier age of onset than girls.

To what extent does OCD affect an individual?

The impact of OCD varies from individual to individual. The kids with OCD often see a downfall in their school or athletic performance, academic grades, bedtime, etc while adults experience issues with their personal hygiene, concentration, and much more.  

How do we diagnose OCD in an individual? 

There are no laboratory or brain imaging tests to diagnose OCD.  Our trained psychologists, and other mental health professionals diagnose OCD in an individual simply by observing and assessing their symptoms.

Is medication effective in OCD?

Most people who suffer from moderate to severe OCD state that medication helps them – it makes symptoms less intense and challenging treatment more successful. As per the research, medication in conjunction with specialized CBT gets the best results. People do sometimes meet their goals without medication, or only take medication for a limited period of time.

How long does it take for treatment to work?

There’s no fixed timeline when it comes to treating OCD patients. The time varies from individual to individual based on their symptoms, treatment plans, and life circumstances. However, in most cases, people start to feel better in 10 to 20 sessions. In severe cases, the treatment can extend up to a year or more.