Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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In obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), your child experiences unwanted and repeated thoughts about things your child may fear, such as contamination with germs. Your child may develop rituals to deal with these fears (such as overly frequent hand-washing). These thoughts and rituals become very frequent and may interfere with normal development and daily life.


We don’t know what causes OCD, but it may be related to improper levels of serotonin, a chemical in your child’s brain. OCD tends to run in families, and researchers suspect a possible genetic cause for it. However, OCD is not always inherited, and it may develop without any family history of the condition. OCD also sometimes develops or worsens following a streptococcal infection. The condition is most commonly seen in teens.

Symptoms of OCD

The symptoms of OCD may be different for each child. These symptoms may become time-consuming and disrupt your child’s daily life. Your child may experience:

  • Intrusive, repetitive and unwanted ideas, images or impulses (called obsessions), including:
    • Extreme fear of germs or contamination
    • Interfering thoughts about aggression, violence or taboo behavior
    • Worry about their own safety or that of a loved one
    • Concern about order or symmetry
    • Need to do things correctly or perfectly, or to remember something minor
  • Repetitive thoughts and actions (called compulsions) that help reduce the stress caused by your child’s obsessions, including:
    • Repeating actions a number of times until it “feels right” or following a strict set of “rules”
    • Frequent and repeated hand-washing
    • Checking stoves, door locks, water faucets and light switches frequently or in a pattern
    • Making lists, counting, arranging or aligning things repeatedly
    • Mentally repeating phrases

Diagnosis and Treatment at UVA

At UVA, a child psychiatrist or other mental health provider will evaluate your child.

Treatment for OCD depends on how severe the condition is. Treatment may include:

  • Cognitive and behavioral therapy
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  • Family therapy
  • Antibiotics (if there is a history of infection)