What Are The Early Signs Of OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that affects 1.2%¹ of the adult US population.  Early onset OCD is the most common mental illness among children and adolescents, affecting 1% to 3%² of this age group.

OCD can take many forms, some of which hinder everyday activities and social functioning. Diagnosing OCD early can help manage the condition and improve quality of life.

Let's take a closer look at the early signs of OCD.

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We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is OCD?

OCD is a mental health disorder that affects people of all ages. The condition varies from mild to severe and takes many different forms. The key characteristic of OCD is a cycle of obsessions and compulsions.

  • Obsessions: The person has unwanted, persistent thoughts or urges that cause worrisome and distressing feelings. For example, the person obsesses about germs harming their health.

  • Compulsions: The person engages in various behaviors to decrease distress and reduce unwanted thoughts. For example, the person washes their hands all the time.

Many people have obsessive thoughts and certain compulsive behaviors at some point in their lives. However, they are usually fleeting and don't cause major discomfort. For people with OCD, these thoughts and behaviors become so pressing that they interfere with everyday activities.

Early signs of OCD

OCD usually starts before the age of 25, with symptoms sometimes apparent in preschool-aged children. However, it can also occur later in life. In men, the disorder usually begins earlier than in women.

While there isn't a cure for OCD, there are strategies that help keep the condition under control and prevent it from interfering with a person's life.

It can be hard to understand that a person has OCD when it begins. Watch out for:

  • Repetitive behavior

  • Worrisome thoughts

  • Collecting items of no value

  • Touching, checking, cleaning, and counting rituals

  • Rigid rules

People with OCD may also have tics, such as grunting, jerking their heads, blinking, shrugging, and throat clearing.

OCD can start at any time. However, the two common age ranges when this condition first appears are between the ages of 8 and 12 and between the late teens and early adulthood.

Talk to your doctor if you notice early signs of OCD in yourself or a loved one. They can provide valuable information and prescribe effective therapy or medication.


PANDAS³ stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections.

OCD usually begins gradually, but in children, it may develop overnight due to a strep infection.

This seems to happen because strep bacteria can provoke antibodies to attack the basal ganglia, a part of the brain involved in behavior and movement. This condition doesn't usually occur in children over 12.

If your child suddenly develops OCD symptoms, get medical attention immediately.

What are the 4 types of OCD?

The majority of OCD symptoms fall into one of the following four types of the condition:

  • Checking: Constant worrying about preventing harm or damage. The person may obsess about fires, floods, or robbers. That's why they keep checking if doors are locked, or appliances are off.

  • Contamination: Worrying about being dirty and facing germs and bacteria. The person showers frequently and avoids shaking hands or touching anything in public places.

  • Hoarding: Collecting unnecessary items and being unable to throw them out because they fear they may need them one day.

  • Harm: Worrying about causing harm to themselves or others inadvertently. The person tries to avoid any potentially harmful behavior, such as driving a car or using a knife.

It's possible to have more than one type of OCD. Over time, the types may change or stay the same.

Risk factors for OCD

While scientists have yet to discover the definitive cause of OCD, people at risk of developing this condition can watch out for its early signs.

Risk factors include:

  • Genetics: People whose first-degree relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, children) have OCD are at a higher risk of developing it

  • Brain structure: There may be a connection between OCD and abnormalities of specific brain areas

  • Environment: There may be a connection between childhood trauma and OCD

More research is needed to clarify the exact risk factors for OCD in children and adults.

Treatment for OCD

OCD doesn't go away without treatment. However, its symptoms may fade over time.

The common treatment for OCD includes:

  • Medication: SRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) can reduce the symptoms of OCD. Some of them are approved for children.

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): A type of CBT called 'exposure and response prevention' (ERP) can be effective for all types of OCD.

Around 70% of patients with OCD benefit from CBT, medication, or a combination of the two.

The lowdown 

OCD is a mental health disorder that develops gradually. The early signs of OCD are repetitive behavior, persistent worrisome thoughts, and rituals. The earlier you notice the symptoms of OCD, the faster you can get professional treatment.

While there isn't yet a cure for OCD, it's possible to control the condition with medication and therapy interventions. Proper treatment can substantially improve your quality of life and prevent the condition from progressing.

  1. Anxiety disorders - Facts & statistics | Anxiety and Depression Association of America

  2. Obsessive-compulsive disorder in children and adolescents (2011)

  3. PANDAS—Questions and answers: Overview | National Institute of Mental Health

Other sources:

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