Acera Health

OCD: What Causes it to Get Worse?

Reviewed by: Melody Stone
Person with OCD lining up pens and paper clips

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by persistent, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions). While OCD can have its ebbs and flows, many individuals often wonder: what causes OCD to get worse?

The nature of OCD is that it doesn’t remain static. Its intensity can vary, influenced by numerous internal and external factors. As a testament to the prevalence and importance of understanding this disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1.2% of U.S. adults are diagnosed with OCD. Such a statistic underscores the need for awareness, research, and comprehensive treatment strategies.

For those wondering about their own experiences and whether they might align with this condition, taking an OCD test can be a helpful first step in identifying symptoms and understanding the need for further professional evaluation.

Can OCD Get Worse Overtime?

Absolutely. Like many mental health disorders, the severity of OCD can fluctuate throughout a person’s life. There are times when symptoms may be mild and others when they are significantly more pronounced. Several factors can influence the progression of OCD:

  • Stress: High-stress levels or traumatic events can exacerbate OCD symptoms. Pressure can act as a trigger, making obsessions more frequent or intense.
  • Hormonal Changes: Women may notice increased OCD symptoms during menstruation, pregnancy, or postpartum. These hormonal changes can have a direct impact on the brain’s chemistry, affecting the intensity of OCD.
  • Life Transitions: Significant changes, such as moving, starting a new job, or the death of a loved one, can increase the severity of symptoms.
  • Coexisting Mental Health Disorders: Conditions like depression, anxiety, or tic disorders can compound the symptoms of OCD. Additionally, specific subtypes like moral OCD, where individuals become excessively concerned with right and wrong, can also see fluctuations in intensity due to these factors, further complicating the landscape of OCD symptoms.

Given this information, it becomes evident that while OCD might present consistent themes in one’s life, its intensity and manifestations can be fluid, changing based on many factors. For instance, hormonal shifts, particularly during pregnancy, can intensify OCD symptoms. A specific study on pregnant women with OCD found that 32.7% experienced worsening preexisting OCD symptoms. Recognizing these triggers and diverse factors and understanding their effects is the first step toward managing and potentially mitigating worsening symptoms.

Symptoms of OCD Escalating

It’s crucial to recognize the signs of escalating OCD symptoms. Some indicators include:

  • Increased Time Spent on Compulsions: If rituals begin to consume several hours of the day, this can be a sign that OCD is getting worse.
  • Heightened Distress: Increased anxiety or distress about obsessions or the inability to carry out compulsions.
  • Avoidance Behavior: Avoiding places, people, or activities for fear they will trigger obsessions or because they interfere with compulsive behaviors.
  • Intrusive Thoughts Become More Persistent: Obsessions might become more frequent, intense, or distressing. Particularly, individuals may notice an increase in distressing themes, such as suicidal OCD and suicidal thoughts, where the fear of self-harm becomes more prevalent, adding to the urgency for effective management strategies.
  • Interference in Daily Life: When OCD prevents normal functioning at work, school, or in relationships, it’s a strong indicator of escalating.

How to Prevent OCD from Getting Worse

Recognizing and understanding what causes OCD to worsen is instrumental in crafting an effective preventative strategy. Here are some preventive measures that can help make a significant difference:

  • Stress Management: Engage in relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation. Stress changes how the brain works and makes us lean towards habits.
  • Limit Alcohol and Stimulants: Substances like caffeine or alcohol can increase anxiety, potentially worsening OCD symptoms.
  • Maintain a Routine: Having a structured daily routine can provide a sense of normalcy.
  • Stay Connected: Talking to loved ones or joining a support group can help manage symptoms.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This therapy type can help individuals recognize and change negative patterns of thought and behavior.

For those on a journey of understanding and managing OCD, questions may arise beyond its primary causes and symptoms. For instance: Is OCD considered neurodivergent? To delve into this and other related topics, visit our comprehensive page for deeper insight and clarity.

When Should I Seek OCD Treatment?

OCD is a chronic condition, but treatment can help manage symptoms. It’s essential to seek help when:

  • You feel trapped by obsessions or compulsions
  • OCD interferes with your work, school, or home responsibilities
  • There’s a decline in the quality of your relationships due to OCD
  • You experience severe anxiety or depression alongside OCD symptoms

OCD Treatment at Acera Health

At Acera Health, we understand the complexities of OCD and are committed to offering personalized, evidence-based treatments for those grappling with this challenging disorder. Whether you require outpatient or inpatient care, our skilled professionals create a nurturing environment to guide you through your healing journey.

Our treatment approach combines the latest therapeutic techniques with a holistic understanding of the individual. By addressing the symptoms and underlying causes and triggers, we aim to provide our patients with the tools they need to lead a fulfilling life.


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