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Prenatal Factors Up Risks For Developing OCD, Study Claims

First Posted: Oct 10, 2016 05:30 AM EDT
Lifestyle During Pregnancy
A new study suggests that behaviors during pregnancy and a number of childbirth complications may influence a child's risk of developing obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
(Photo : Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel obliged to do. A new study claims that the mother's behavior during pregnancy, as well as a couple of childbirth complications, can contribute to a child's risk of developing obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

According to Health Day, Swedish researchers claim that cesarean sections, preterm and breech (backward) births, smoking while pregnant, and unusually large or small babies were all found to be associated with increased risk for the mental health disorder. "The specific causes of OCD are unknown," said lead researcher Gustaf Brander, from the Center for Psychiatry Research at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. "While both genetic and environmental risk factors are thought to be associated with OCD, this is the first time that a set of environmental risk factors is convincingly associated with the condition," Brander said.

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people with OCD have uncontrollable repetitive thoughts, and they try to manage these thought by doing a certain behavior over and over again. ). For example, someone with a heightened fear of burglars might continually recheck the door locks. About 1 percent of adult Americans have the condition, which can interfere with daily life, the NIMH says, UPI reported.

Although the new findings show a connection between several perinatal factors and an increase in the risk for OCD, Brander still thinks that it doesn't prove that these factors actually cause the disorder. But, "together with other ongoing gene discovery efforts, the results pave the way for a deeper understanding of the causes of OCD," he said. Studies in the past have connected pregnancy and birth complications to psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Researchers also recalled that variations in fetal growth have been linked with brain development through adolescence.

For this study, published online in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, Brander and his colleagues gathered data on 2.4 million children born in Sweden between the years 1973 and 1996, which they have then kept track of until 2013. Researchers found that more than 17,000 of them developed OCD, with the average age of diagnosis being 23.

Researchers also revealed that aside from smoking, method of delivery and birth weight, a low Apgar score, which is an assessment of overall infant health in the minutes after birth, can also contribute to the risk of OCD, according to Web MD. They also found that the more of these individual elements an infant experiences, the greater the chance of developing OCD. The study revealed that one risk factor raised the probability 11 percent, while five or more raised it to 51 percent. The study findings were revealed after considering other family conditions, such as socioeconomic status or parental mental illness, the researchers said.

About 50 percent of participants in the study who developed OCD had one of the risk factors at birth, noted Dr. James Leckman, a professor of child psychiatry at Yale University's Child Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut. "There is a fairly strong indication that for some individuals with OCD there is a risk that gets started very early in development, even during the prenatal period," said Leckman, co-author of an accompanying journal editorial.

He believes a genetic risk for OCD paired with environmental factors may jumpstart the condition. "Some of these are not ones that you can prevent, but others, like smoking, can be avoided, said Leckman.

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