Signs & Symptoms of OCD

Learn about the side effects, causes, signs and symptoms of OCD. Millcreek of Magee Treatment Center offers the best residential treatment and home-based programs for children & adolescents struggling with OCD.

Understanding OCD

Learn more about OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD, is a debilitating and distressing mental health condition that can create a number of obstacles and hindrances in a person’s life, regardless of the age of the sufferer. Characterized by pervasive anxious feelings coupled with intrusive obsessions and compulsions, OCD can prevent a person, especially a young person, from being able to complete even the most mundane of tasks.

The obsessive thoughts involved in OCD can ruminate in a person’s mind until something is done on a behavioral level to reduce the anxiety caused by these thought processes. However, despite whatever action or measure the sufferer takes to alleviate anxious feelings, obsessions rarely dissipate. Furthermore, the compulsive aspect of this mental health condition can cause a person to give in to urges to engage in ritualistic, and sometimes even dangerous, behaviors as another method for reducing anxiety.

Fortunately, children and adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder do not have to remain in the cyclical pattern of having obsessions and giving in to compulsions. There are effective and appropriate options for care available that can alleviate OCD symptoms and help young people learn new tools for managing overwhelming anxiety. Parents and caregivers who afford their child or adolescent with such treatment ultimately help him or her understand that it is possible to live a healthy, well-functioning life, free from this devastating mental illness.


OCD statistics

While the average age of onset for obsessive-compulsive disorder is 19, young people under that age are known to suffer from this debilitating mental illness. It has been estimated that 25% of people who experience symptoms synonymous with obsessive-compulsive disorder display signs and symptoms at or around the age of 14. Lastly, it has been realized through extensive research that preschool-age children also battle the distressing symptoms of OCD.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for OCD

In order to understand the causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder, it is necessary to understand how genes, a person’s physiological composition, and one’s environment can impact the onset of this disorder. The following elaborations, as well as other risk factors, expand on these influences that can ultimately lead to the development of OCD in a child or adolescent:

Genetic: If a child or adolescent has a biological parent who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, there is a high likelihood that he or she will eventually develop symptoms of the same disorder. Furthermore, possessing a family history of certain anxiety disorders can render a young person more susceptible to the development of this debilitating mental health condition. In lieu of this discovery of these types of disorders among individuals who share similar genes, it can be concluded that OCD does, in fact, have a genetic component.

Physical: The obsessions and compulsions involved in OCD have the ability to impact certain chemicals in a person’s brain. Neurotransmitters that regulate emotions and help a person manage impulses are adversely affected as these chemicals become imbalanced. When this happens symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder can manifest.

Environmental: Traumatic experiences or being the victim of abuse and/or neglect can ultimately trigger the onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Additionally, other environmental influences, such as the absence of caregivers during the early stages of a child’s development can lead to the onset of OCD symptoms. This belief is widely believed by developmental specialists who have identified these environmental influences in the lives of young people who present with OCD symptoms.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of obsessive-compulsive disorder or other mental health condition(s)
  • Personal history of another mental health condition(s)
  • Personal history of being abused or neglected
  • Having a poor support system
  • Experiencing the unexpected loss of a loved one
  • Experiencing abrupt life changes
  • Having caregivers that were not involved during childhood
  • Partaking in unhealthy relationships
  • Exposure to chronic stress or trauma
  • Being the victim of crime

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of OCD

When a child or adolescent suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, he or she frequently struggles with obsessive symptoms, as well as compulsive symptoms. Sometimes, a youth will struggle with one set of symptoms more than the other. It is important, however, to identify the presence of either type of symptoms and seek appropriate care for a young person with OCD so that the following symptoms can be alleviated if they are present:

Obsessive symptoms: The following obsessive symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder are often unwanted and cause a person to partake in compulsive behaviors:

  • Disturbing thoughts that are graphic in nature  
  • Intense fears pertaining to risk of contamination
  • Impulsion to be aggressive, though the impulsion is more of an idea than an action
  • Overwhelming feelings of responsibility for others
  • Irrational, excessive, and specific worries about arrangement or symmetry of objects

Compulsive symptoms: Involving behaviors that are intended to relieve anxiety despite the fact that anxious feelings often remain present, the compulsive symptoms of OCD are as follows:

  • Frequently checking to make sure something has been done
  • Frequently checking to make sure something remains in a state that eases perceived anxiety
  • Repetitious speech
  • Spending a great deal of time rearranging items
  • Excessive cleaning
  • Repeatedly washing one’s hands or bathing
  • Hoarding
  • Ritualistic eating habits


The effects of OCD

Ignoring the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder can be detrimental to a person’s well-being. Should OCD symptoms remain or worsen, the following effects are known to occur and add additional undue obstacles to a child or adolescent’s life:

  • Development of another mental health condition
  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Decline in academic functioning
  • Academic failure
  • Inability to obtain and maintain steady employment
  • Development of a substance abuse problem
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Attempts at suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

OCD and co-occurring disorders

The obsessive and compulsive symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder can lead to the development of another mental illness or illnesses. The reason for this has to do with the fact that OCD can trigger the onset of symptoms synonymous with certain mental health conditions. Additionally, some mental disorders can cause the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder to become apparent over time. The following are co-occurring disorders that are known to be diagnosed alongside OCD:

  • Panic disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Tic disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Specific phobias
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance use disorders