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What Causes OCD to get Worse?

Jan 10, 2023

According to the International OCD Foundation, approximately two to three million adults and 500,000 kids in the United States have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD can occur at any age. Obsessive-compulsive disorder most commonly emerges between the ages of eight and 12 and during late teens and young adulthood.

For people with OCD, unwanted thoughts and behaviors can interfere with their work, family, and social lives. Part of managing OCD means understanding what causes OCD to get worse. Patients need to avoid triggering situations and pursue treatment. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, various treatment options exist, like medication, psychotherapy, and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). 

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition. People with OCD experience intrusive thoughts and perform repetitive behaviors.

They typically know these thoughts and behaviors are illogical. However, they cannot control them and take no pleasure from them. People with OCD may struggle with obsessive thoughts that they cannot control. They may also show signs of compulsive behavior that they cannot control on their own. 

Symptoms of OCD may include obsessions, compulsions, or both:

Obsessions: Repetitive, Unwanted Thoughts That Cause Extreme Anxiety


      • Fear of germs, illness, or injury

      • Taboo thoughts about sex or hurting someone

      • Frightening images in their mind

      • Fear of losing something

      • Perfectionism

      • A need for symmetry

      • Obsession with death, relationships, religion, or past events

      • And more

    Compulsions: Repetitive Behaviors Performed in an Attempt to Ease Anxiety


        • Excessive hand-washing, showering, or grooming or the need to perform those tasks in a specific way

        • Excessive household cleaning

        • Repeatedly checking to see if a door is locked or checking on other people to make sure they’re ok

        • Counting while performing tasks to finish on a “safe” number

        • Repeating activities or bodily movements

        • Repeating those activities a specific number of times

        • Uncontrollably repeating a mantra or prayer

        • Rearranging items

        • And more

      What is the Root Cause of OCD?

      There is no known root cause of OCD. Several factors may increase someone’s risk of OCD:


          • Genetics: People with a parent, sibling, or child with OCD is at a higher risk for OCD. 

          • Brain Structure: More research is required to fully understand the connection between OCD and specific abnormalities in the brain. 

          • Trauma: Researchers seek to understand the relationship between childhood trauma and OCD. 

        What Causes OCD to Get Worse?

        Several conditions can cause OCD to get worse. In addition to therapy, medication, and TMS, some people may need to manage other health conditions stress and more effectively.

        Here are a few things that can worsen OCD:

        Co-Occurring Disorders

        Co-Occurring disorders means when an individual is suffering with more than one mental health disorder. Having obsessive-compulsive disorder in addition to another mental health disorder can make each disorder’s symptoms worse.

        Mental health disorders that can worsen OCD include:


            • Social anxiety

            • Substance abuse disorders

          Getting a diagnosis and seeking treatment for these conditions may help someone make more progress with OCD treatment. 


          Childhood trauma may contribute to OCD in the first place. The National Library of Medicine includes a study indicating that additional trauma can worsen symptoms. These traumatic events could include physical or sexual abuse, an accident, exposure to contaminants, or a disruption in the family. If trauma goes untreated, this can make obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms worse.


          In times of stress, obsessive and compulsive behavior can worsen. Stressful events could include work assignments, school exams, marriage, pregnancy, relationship strain, financial difficulties, or moving to a new home. Mitigating stress and finding ways to relax through meditation or other means can help reduce OCD symptoms.

          How to Treat OCD

          OCD treatment is essential because obsessions and compulsions can affect daily life. When OCD is not treated or not treated properly an individual might spend hours performing rituals or be consumed by thoughts that interfere with enjoyable activities and daily life.  

          The first step is understanding what causes OCD to get worse. People with OCD may need to treat other health conditions, avoid triggering situations and manage stress. The three primary forms of treatment for OCD can include medication, therapy, and transcranial magnetic stgimulation (TMS).


          It’s essential for people with OCD to speak with their doctor about potential treatment options. Medications commonly used to treat OCD include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) and antipsychotics. 


          These therapies can be used alone or with medication and TMS.


              • Cognitive-behavioral therapy

              • Habit reversal training

              • Exposure and response prevention

              • Talk therapy

            TMS for OCD

            The FDA has approved Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation to treat OCD. TMS is an alternative treatment for OCD and works by stimulating parts of the brain that are often associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Before the course of treatment, an EEG assessment and mental health evaluation to help with creating a personalized TMS protocol. 

            During each treatment, an electromagnetic coil is placed on the top of the head, stimulating the brain with repetitive magnetic pulses for anywhere from three to forty minutes depending on the protocol. TMS requires a series of treatments to be most effective.

            People seek TMS for OCD for a variety of reasons:


                • They want a thorough treatment approach that includes medication, therapy, and TMS.

                • They have not responded to medication and are seeking an alternative, otherwise known as treatment-resistant OCD. 

                • They want non-medical treatment options. 

              TMS offers several benefits:


                  • Non-invasive and does not require a sedative

                  • Safe and painless for both children and adults

                  • Offers a higher success rate than other types of OCD treatment

                  • Can be used alongside medication and therapy, which may increase the success rate

                  • The vast majority of patients experience no side effects from TMS 

                OCD Treatment in San Diego

                No treatment and improper treatment can cause OCD to get worse. Having a co-occurring mental health disorder or trauma can also complicate treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder even further. Combining different treatment options and creating an individualized treatment plan can prove to be most effective.

                Brain Therapy TMS in San Diego, California, offers TMS treatment for OCD to help relieve and reduce OCD symptoms. TMS comes with very few side effects, is non-invasive, and does not require medication. If you or a loved one are struggling with OCD reach out to Brain Therapy TMS today.

                Considering TMS Treatment? Schedule a Consultation!

                Tired of the results you’re getting from your standard treatment? Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation may be able to increase your chances of long-term remission, reducing your symptoms and allowing you to live a more joyful life.

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                San Diego, CA 92109

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