Research Scientist

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

shutterstock_79188616Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, affects approximately 2.2 million adults; one-third developed symptoms as children. OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by persistent, unwelcome thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors, and can also be accompanied by eating disorders, other anxiety disorders, or depression. OCD is now estimated to affect 1 in 200 kids and teens.(International OCD Foundation)

OCD typically involves repeated, upsetting thoughts called obsessions. Common obsessions include fear of germs or of being hurt.  Those with OCD repeat actions to try to make the thoughts go away. The repeated actions are called compulsions, which may include repeated handwashing, cleaning, checking on something, or counting. The symptoms often begin in children or teens.

Children and adolescents with OCD typically first try to ignore, suppress, or deny obsessive thoughts. They commonly try to neutralize excessive thoughts by performing compulsive actions, which are repetitive, purposeful behaviors carried out in response to the obsession. If something interferes with or blocks the compulsive behavior, the child feels increased anxiety or fear and can become quite upset and oppositional.

OCD v. Normal Ritualistic Behaviors

It is important not to confuse normal ritualistic behavior in children with OCD.  Young children especially exhibit typical, age-appropriate compulsive behaviors. Many children prefer bedtime and mealtime rituals and can become upset if these are interfered with. These behaviors appear related to mental age so may vary for children with cognitive disabilities. Ritualistic behaviors are common in toddlers, peaking at age 2-3 and declining as a child ages into middle childhood, when hobbies or focused interests take precedence.

If untreated, obsessive-compulsive disorder can take over one's life. Research shows that with OCD, brain circuits may not work properly. These traits can run in families. Proper treatment including cogitive and behavioral therapy and medicines (including integrative approaches) can be very effective.

(Source:  National Institute of Mental Health &


Last updated 06-20-2019

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