Are you born with OCD or do you develop it?

Every person’s experience of OCD is different.

Symptoms of OCD vary from one person to the next, as do the underlying causes of the condition. While some may experience the onset of OCD in their early years, others may develop it later in life. The severity of symptoms can also vary greatly, with some people only experiencing mild symptoms, whilst others experience obsessions and compulsions severe enough that their OCD is classed as a disability.

The cause of OCD remains a controversial topic, despite numerous medical studies exploring potential triggers and causes, are still no conclusive answers about what causes OCD.

In this article, we will delve into some of the theories about what causes OCD, discuss whether people can be born with the condition, and the factors that may cause it to develop.

Are people born with OCD?

It is still unclear whether a person can be born with OCD or whether it is something that develops later in life.

Various theories suggest that genetics and biology may be significant factors in its development.

So, even if you are not born with the condition, you could be born with a biological or genetic predisposition towards developing it.


Studies into the causes of OCD have found that OCD sometimes appears to run in families, but so far researchers have not found a specific gene that can be linked to OCD. However, it is thought that some genes can be inherited that may make a person more susceptible to developing OCD. One particular study published in 2020, found that a genetic neurotransmitter defect could trigger OCD. However, having these genes or genetic defects does not guarantee that a person will develop OCD.


There could also be some biological factors that could affect a person’s likelihood of developing OCD. According to the NHS, some people with OCD have areas of unusually high activity in their brains or low levels of the chemical serotonin. Again, whether or not a person is born with these biological differences or if they develop them is unclear.

Genetic and biological risk factors that could increase the chances of a person developing OCD include having:

  • At least one first-degree relative with OCD.
  • A relative that developed OCD as a child.
  • Increased neuroactivity in certain regions of the brain.
  • Too much or too little serotonin.
  • Another mental health condition like anxiety.
  • Other conditions like ADD, ADHD, substance abuse, or addiction.

Can a person develop OCD?

Most people with OCD develop symptoms by the time they are around 19 or 20 years old. It is, however, possible to develop symptoms earlier or later than this. OCD in children younger than ten years old is called early-onset OCD, whilst OCD that develops in adults over the age of 40 is called late-onset OCD.

Other factors that could cause a person to develop OCD include:

Learned behaviour

Another possible cause of OCD is the environment in which an individual is raised or resides. It is thought that exposure to a family member or household member with OCD who engages in repetitive behaviours or compulsions could lead to an individual picking up similar symptoms through learned behaviour.

Trauma or another stressor

OCD may also be triggered by a traumatic or stressful life event like bullying, abuse, bereavement, or childbirth. It is thought that stress and trauma are more likely to trigger OCD in people who are already genetically predisposed to developing OCD.


A study conducted in 1998 found that some children develop OCD after experiencing a severe streptococcal infection. A strep infection triggers an immune response which can sometimes generate antibodies that cross-react with a region of the brain that is key in OCD.


Another common theory is that some people have personality traits that make them more susceptible to developing OCD. Some personality traits that may make a person more likely to develop OCD include being very neat, meticulous, and methodical, and holding oneself to exceptionally high standards.

Here at Care Business Associates, we run an OCD and Personality Disorder Masterclass that explains more about what OCD is, the effects it can have on a person’s daily life, and how to support someone with the condition.

You can find out more about our OCD and Personality Disorder Masterclass online or book your place on the course today by calling us on 01772 816922.