One risk factor for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is something known as neurological soft signs (NSS). These minor disturbances in brain functioning have been shown to be present in people with OCD more often than in people without OCD. Some studies have isolated NSS and discovered that individuals with OCD and NSS have impaired reflexes and motor coordination, as well as more severe symptoms of the disorder. Other risk factors that have been suggested are decreased intelligence, temperament, childhood trauma, and emotional functioning. In order to identify how each of these specific domains influences the vulnerability for OCD, J. R. Grisham of the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales in Australia led a study examining data collected over 30 years.
Grisham and his colleagues evaluated data from 972 individuals who were part of a longitudinal study in Australia. The data were gathered from the participants’ first birthday to their 32nd birthday on 10 different occasions. The researchers found that 11% of participants who displayed symptoms of OCD in childhood went on to develop OCD in adulthood. Of all of the adults, those who developed OCD were more likely to have had behavioral problems in childhood. Additionally, negative emotional well-being was also linked to OCD at age 18. Intelligence was related to OCD as well, with participants with lower intelligence prior to diagnoses more likely to develop OCD.
Of all of the risk factors, childhood abuse was the strongest predictor of OCD later in life. Specifically, children who had been physically or sexually abused were more likely to develop anxiety problems in adulthood. However, the sexually abused children did not exhibit ritualistic hand-washing OCD behaviors, suggested to be a result of sexual abuse, but other obsessive behaviors. Surprisingly, the children who had experienced physical abuse were at increased risk for OCD and the more common symptoms associated with it. Grisham added, “In conclusion, the current investigation has demonstrated that a range of childhood developmental factors is associated with an OCD diagnosis and specific OC symptom dimensions in adulthood, thereby advancing our understanding of the etiology of this disabling disorder.”
Grisham, J. R., Fullana, M. A., Mataix-Cols, D., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Poulton, R. Risk Factors Prospectively Associated With Adult Obsessive-Compulsive Symptom Dimensions and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Psychological Medicine 41.12 (2011): 2495-506. Print.
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