What is obsessive-compulsive disorder in children and teens?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Children and Teens

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children: Overview

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition. It makes your child have unwanted thoughts that occur over and over. To stop those thoughts, your child might develop a compulsion. This is an action or ritual that is done again and again.

For example, a child might worry constantly that if they get dirty, they will get sick. To handle this feeling, the child might wash their hands or clothes or clean things over and over.

The action makes your child feel better for only a short time. If your child tries to resist the urge to do it, they may feel very anxious or have panic attacks. The same can happen if your child isn't allowed to do the action.

Therapy can help your child learn to manage thoughts and actions. Your child may have one-on-one therapy, group therapy, and family-focused therapy.

Your doctor also may prescribe medicine to help with symptoms.

What are the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children?

Symptoms of OCD often come and go. And they can change as a child gets older. The main symptoms are obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, ideas, and impulses that your child has again and again. Compulsions are behaviors your child repeats to try to control the obsessions and reduce anxiety.

How is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children treated?

Your child's doctor may prescribe medicines such as antidepressants. The doctor may also recommend counseling to treat the OCD. Treatment can help make the symptoms less severe. But your child may still have some symptoms after treatment starts.

How is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children diagnosed?

Your doctor can check for OCD by talking with you and your child. The doctor will ask about your child's symptoms and past health. The doctor may also ask about any family members who have had similar symptoms. The doctor may also do a physical exam.

How can you care for your child who has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

If your child was prescribed medicine, give it exactly as directed. Also, make sure your child goes to counseling and follow-up appointments. You can also help your child handle stress in healthy ways. This may include regular exercise, eating healthy, avoiding caffeine, drawing or writing about things that bother them, and expressing their emotions.

What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children?

Experts don't know the cause of OCD. Some think that there may be a problem with the way one part of the brain sends information to another part. This may involve changes in the levels of certain brain chemicals, such as serotonin.

Some experts believe that strep infections can suddenly bring on OCD in some children or make its symptoms worse. These infections include strep throat and scarlet fever.

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that causes your child to have repeated unwanted thoughts. To get rid of them, your child may do the same tasks over and over. Therapy can help your child learn to manage their thoughts and actions. Their doctor also may prescribe medicine to help with symptoms.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child mentions suicide. If a suicide threat seems real, with a specific plan and a way to carry it out, you or someone you trust should stay with your child until you get help.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If your child talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child's repeated actions and rituals upset daily activities.
  • Your child's symptoms of OCD are new or different from those that your child had before.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.