9 Surprising Facts About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN on June 16, 2020
  • Woman looking worried or troubled
    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Facts
    If you have obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors or rituals, you’re not alone: Approximately 3 million Americans have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) at any given time, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. The disorder is characterized by obsessions (repeated thoughts, urges or images that cause anxiety) and compulsions, which are behaviors performed over and over to reduce the anxiety and obsessive thoughts. These obsessions and compulsions interfere with the affected individuals’ lives, creating problems at work and difficulty in relationships. With treatment, OCD can be controlled.

    Misconceptions about OCD are common. How many of these obsessive-compulsive disorder facts do you know?
  • Girl washing her hands at kitchen sink
    1. Fear of dirt can be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder in children.
    OCD symptoms can be present in children as young as 6 or 7 years of age. Possible symptoms of OCD in children include fear of dirt or germs; a need for symmetry, order and precision; preoccupation with bodily waste; repetitive handwashing; and unusual rituals, such as needing to move through spaces in a particular manner.

    Of course, it can be difficult for parents and caregivers to know if a child’s preference or habit is an adorable quirk or something more serious. If the “quirk” is interfering with the child’s life or family life, consult a physician.
  • Teen age boy shaving
    2. OCD symptoms often appear during the teenage years.
    Although children as young as 7 can be diagnosed with OCD, it’s much more common for symptoms to emerge during adolescence or early adulthood. Symptoms often begin sooner in boys than in girls.

    According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), most people with OCD are officially diagnosed by age 19. However, it is possible to develop obsessive-compulsive disorder later in life. The NIMH notes that “onset after age 35 does happen.”
  • Mother homeschooling daughter and son at dining table
    3. A family history of OCD increases your risk of developing the disorder.
    In most cases, no one knows exactly what causes OCD. However, researchers have learned that the brains of people with OCD are different, in some ways, from the brains of people who do not have OCD. Researchers and healthcare professionals have also noticed that OCD can run in families. If your parents, sibling or child has obsessive-compulsive disorder, you have an increased risk of developing OCD.

    Researchers have also noticed a link between childhood trauma (such as abuse, neglect, a natural disaster, or war) and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They’re still working to understand the connection between trauma and OCD.
  • Young African American boy having throat checked by female African American doctor
    4. Rarely, OCD symptoms can develop in children after strep infection.
    A child who develops sudden OCD symptoms after a bout of strep throat or scarlet fever may have PANDAS, or Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections.

    Most children who develop a strep infection recover fully. However, some children develop obsessive thoughts or compulsions within 4 to 6 weeks of a strep infection, seemingly overnight. They may also exhibit increased separation anxiety, personality changes, and serious mood swings.

    A child who develops OCD symptoms within 4 to 6 weeks of a strep infection should be assessed by a physician.
  • Counselor listening to a young female client
    5. Only trained professionals can diagnose OCD.
    It’s common to hear people say things like “That’s my OCD” or “I have a little OCD.” However, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health condition that can only be diagnosed by trained professionals. These professionals look for evidence of obsessions and compulsions, as well as the impact of these thoughts and actions on the individual’s life. According to the International OCD Foundation, the obsession and compulsions of people with OCD “take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values.”

    If you are concerned about OCD symptoms, consult a psychologist, psychiatrist or trained therapist with experience diagnosing and treating OCD.
  • Row of colorful sweet jellybeans being arranged by color on gray background
    6. There is more than one type of OCD.
    Obsessive-compulsive disorder is subdivided into different types, depending upon the exhibited symptoms:
    • Checking, characterized by a constant need to check whether the oven is off, or homework is completed, for instance.
    • Contamination, marked by fear of germs, dirt or mental contamination, as well as repetitive washing, cleaning and disinfecting.
    • Symmetry and ordering, the need to arrange things in a particular manner to avoid distress.
    • Rumination, or intrusive thoughts that are often religious, violent or sexual in nature.
    • Hoarding, or the compulsive need to collect and keep possessions.
  • Doctor Writing Medical Prescription
    7. Therapy and obsessive-compulsive disorder medication are first-line treatments.
    The two primary treatments for OCD are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), including exposure response prevention therapy (ERP), and oral medication. The two approaches can be used separately or together Approximately 70% of people with OCD will experience symptom relief with therapy and/or medication, according to the International OCD Foundation.

    It takes time for OCD treatment to work. Both medication and therapy take several weeks to impact behavior. Qualified professionals support people who are pursuing treatment.
  • depressed-tired-man
    8. Some people with OCD also have depression or ADHD.
    Therapy and medication can improve the symptoms of OCD in many people but may not address all the difficulties an individual is experiencing. Some people with OCD also have depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or an eating or learning disorder. Accurate diagnosis and treatment of any health or medical health conditions that occur alongside OCD can improve the individual’s overall quality of life.

    If you struggle despite OCD treatment, talk to your healthcare provider about your diagnoses (if you have more than one condition) and all treatment options. There are many different medications for symptoms of OCD and other behavioral conditions. It may take more trial and error to find the treatments that address your unique set of symptoms.
  • Young brunette woman at care looking off into distance
    9. OCD is a chronic condition.
    There is no cure for obsessive-compulsive disorder; however, treatment can control OCD symptoms and keep obsessions and compulsions from interfering with your life. People who take OCD medicine to manage symptoms should continue taking their medication even if their obsessive thoughts and compulsions seem to have gone away. Do not stop taking your medicine without consulting your healthcare provider.

    If symptoms flare up despite treatment, talk with your healthcare provider. Additional therapy and treatment can help.
9 Surprising Facts About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men. Most recently, she is the author ofThe First-Time Mom's Guide to Raising Boys: Practical Advice for Your Son's Formative Years.
  1. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/obsessivecompulsivedisorder.html
  2. What is OCD? OCD Foundation https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/
  3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/condition/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/?adfree=true
  4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Obsessive-compulsive-Disorder
  5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd.shtml
  6. What are Signs of OCD in Children and Teens? National Children’s. https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/family-resources-education/700childrens/2013/08/what-are-signs-of-ocd-in-children-and-teens
  7. PANDAS Fact Sheet. International OCD Foundation. https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/PANDAS-Fact-Sheet.pdf
  8. PANDAS- Questions and Answers. National Mental Health Institute. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/pandas/index.shtml
  9. Types of OCD. OCD UK. https://www.ocduk.org/ocd/types/
  10. How is OCD Treated? International OCD Foundation https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/ocd-treatment/
  11. Bloch, M, Green C, Kichuk S, et al. Long-term outcome in adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Depress Anxiety. 2013;30(8), 716-722. doi: 10.1002/da.22103. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3932438/
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jun 12
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.