Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder which can begin as young as the preschool years. It is characterized by obsessions (involuntary thoughts, images or impulses that run through the child's mind over and over) and compulsions (repetitive acts the child performs over and over, trying to make the obsessions go away.

There is no single, proven cause for obsessive-compulsive disorder, which affects approximately 1 million children in the United States. However, research shows that it is a brain disorder, tends to run in families, and may develop or worsen after a strep infection.

Common obsessions in children an adolescents are

fears of contamination, intruders, or serious illness
the need for exactness
excessive doubt

Common compulsions include

repetitive rituals such as cleaning or washing
counting, arranging and organizing
checking, or questioning

Obsessions usually change over time. Children over age 8 may feel embarrassed or worried by their obsessions and try to hide or deny them. Others find their rituals so time consuming they have little time for schoolwork, friendships, or other activities.

Standard treatment includes medication therapy, cognitive and behavioral therapy, or some combination of these. Because Obsessive compulsive disorder is a chronic condition, a child may need to take medication indefinitely. Many symptoms can be reduced to a manageable level with medication, and others can be effectively controlled with cognitive behavioral therapy.

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