What Can Worsen OCD Symptoms

OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, is a mental disorder characterized by repetitive, intrusive thoughts that are somatic in nature. It may manifest itself in extreme fear of contamination by germs, excessive concern with order and symmetry, and others. The behavior associated with such worries interferes with daily activities and social life.

OCD, according to the World Health Organization, is a common chronic mental disorder that affects millions of people. Approximately 2-3% of adults in the United States, one in every 200 children and adolescents, and 2% [6*]  of the general population struggle with OCD. The condition begins in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. With time or because of specific reasons, the symptoms may become worse. Below, let’s review which factors can affect it.

Do you experience warning symptoms similar to OCD signs? Contact your doctors to go through an assessment.

What Are the Causes of OCD?

It is not clear what causes OCD, but some known factors that predispose a person to it include:

  • Severe traumatic experiences. For instance, contracting a serious illness can lead to hand-cleaning compulsions.
  • Biological and neurological factors. Some studies [7*]  link the disorder to a serotonin chemical imbalance in the brain.
  • Behavioral factors. An extremely meticulous, neat, and organized person is at a higher risk of OCD.
  • Major life transitions. Childbirth or a job change increases responsibilities and can trigger OCD.
  • Genetic factors. The condition may be inherited and passed down a family line.

OCD Symptoms

Signs of OCD include some of the following compulsive behaviors:

  • Inordinate obsession with symmetry, organization, neatness, and order.
  • An extreme fear of germs contamination causes repetitive hand washing and house cleaning.
  • Safety and an irrational concern with security and constantly checking if windows and doors are well-secured, among other safety measures.
  • Counting OCD, where a person repetitively counts objects they use daily. For instance, stairs.
  • Hoarding disorder — an inability for a person to dispose of unnecessary items.
  • Extreme anxiety and worry if a task or activity is not complete.
  • OCD symptoms in adults may also include sexually intrusive thoughts and images.

What Causes OCD to Get Worse

Several factors worsen OCD’s symptoms:

  • Comorbidities. Comorbidities are the significant causes of escalated OCD symptoms. Approximately 19% to 90% [8*]  of people with OCD struggle with other mental diseases, which can cause the condition to worsen. Some of the mental illnesses that may affect someone with OCD include:
    • Anxiety disorders
    • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
    • Hypochondriasis (health anxiety)
    • Isolation
    • Major depressive disorder
    • Mood disorders
    • Social anxiety disorder
    • Substance abuse disorder

    If the comorbidities are not treated, the condition can get severe and worsen OCD.

  • Significant life changes cause anxiety and can worsen OCD symptoms. The most common examples include family difficulties, job loss, issues associated with relocation, and even cherished events, such as marriage. In addition, severe or prolonged physical illnesses may lead to the onset of OCD or its deterioration.

  • Traumatic experiences, abuse, and stress can make the obsessive-compulsive disorder worse. According to one study, more than 60% [9*]  of respondents with OCD had a stressful or traumatic experience before the onset of OCD. It can be difficult to predict if some specific event will cause the worsening of OCD because people still have different levels of stress resistance. However, compulsive behaviors caused by these events add to the severity of OCD [10*] .

Contact a mental health professional if your OCD symptoms start affecting your daily functioning.

Effects of Increased OCD Symptoms

An escalation of triggers in OCD causes the following challenges:

  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicidal ideations
  • Inability to focus or concentrate on the task at hand
  • Depression
  • Emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion
  • An increase in panic attacks

Measures to Prevent an Increase in OCD Symptoms

To manage OCD triggers, a person with the disorder can use the following techniques:

  • Letting your perfectionism go. It is important to remember no one is perfect.
  • Join a support group for moral support, motivation, and to avoid isolation.
  • Manage stress levels. Engage in activities like journaling and physical workouts to relieve stress.
  • Talk to a therapist for guidance and help to develop practical coping skills.
  • Do not attempt to control the intrusive thoughts. It will intensify the condition. Instead, engage in rewarding distracting activities.
  • Practice relaxation techniques like yoga, visualization, and meditation.

OCD Treatment and Management

Treatment and coping skills can help a person with OCD have a functional life. The most effective treatment is the combination of medicine and a management approach.

OCD treatment and coping skills include:

  • Medication

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the first-line medications for OCD, the same type of drugs that treat depression. It could take approximately six to twelve weeks or even more for the person to benefit from the drugs. If the person does not respond to a particular drug, doctors usually try another SSRI before moving to another type of medication for OCD.

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT treatment uses an exposure and response prevention approach to treat OCD. The method is used for people with mild or moderate disorders. Therapy trains a person that intrusive thoughts are just thoughts and they are harmless. The new attitude to ruminations helps one think without a strong behavioral response.

  • Social support system

It is essential to support family members and friends with OCD. Social support increases the success of the other forms of treatment significantly. The support may be given by helping OCD patients implement exposure practices learned from therapy.

  • Proper self-care

A healthy lifestyle helps a person with OCD cope with the symptoms better. Adequate and quality sleep, a balanced diet, physical exercises, and a healthy self-relationship improve the person’s overall mental health. Basic relaxation skills like massage, yoga, and meditation are also suitable for relieving anxiety.


Knowing the signs of OCD and activities that can escalate those symptoms is essential. Such awareness will help to cope with the condition successfully and have a fulfilling life. If you want to know more about OCD management techniques and understand how to prevent the disorder from worsening, contact EZCare Clinic today.


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Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

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This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.