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15 Lesser-Known Facts about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Cristian Chereches. MSW, RSW, Psychotherapist


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) stands as a multifaceted mental health challenge, impacting millions globally. While some aspects of OCD are commonly understood, there are lesser-known facets that stand proof of the intricacies of this condition. Here, we unveil 15 lesser-known facts about OCD.


  1. The prevalence of diagnosed OCD in Canada is 0.93%

In Canada, approximately 1% of the population receives a formal diagnosis for the disorder. Globally, OCD affects 2-3% of individuals during their lifetime, establishing it as one of the most prevalent psychiatric conditions worldwide.


  1. Negative childhood experiences are more common in people with OCD.

72.33% of people with OCD have experienced some form of childhood trauma or even childhood maltreatment. While the link to childhood trauma is not quite understood or explained, adverse childhood experiences are prevalent among individuals with various mental disorders, and the degree of trauma significantly impacts the severity of these disorders.

By addressing and mitigating adverse childhood experiences, or by intervening in cases of childhood trauma, we can potentially decrease both the frequency and severity of this condition in the future.


  1. A family history of OCD increases the risk of developing the condition.

It is important to recognize that OCD development typically arises from intricate interplays between genetic predispositions and environmental factors. Research studies have noticed that genetic OCD can run in families. If the parents, or a sibling has obsessive-compulsive disorder, there is an increased risk in developing the condition. Consequently, individuals with a family history of OCD may not necessarily develop the disorder unless exposed to triggering environments or experiences.


  1. Healthcare services are accessed more frequently by people with OCD.

But they are also more likely to feel as if they did not receive the help they needed. Individuals with OCD may feel misunderstood or misdiagnosed by healthcare professionals. Negative experiences with healthcare professionals can contribute to a general distrust of the medical system, including feeling dismissed and invalidated during previous encounters. This can lead to frustration and a lack of trust in the medical system’s ability to effectively address their needs.


  1. OCD symptoms can develop in children after strep infection.

Although it is quite rare, a child who develops sudden OCD symptoms after a bout of strep throat or scarlet fever may have PANDAS, or Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections. In PANDAS, certain streptococcal infections, such as strep throat, trigger an abnormal immune response in susceptible individuals. This response can lead to the production of antibodies that mistakenly attack parts of the brain, specifically the basal ganglia, which are associated with movement control and behavior regulation.

As a result of this immune dysregulation, children may suddenly exhibit OCD symptoms or experience a worsening of pre-existing symptoms following a strep infection. These symptoms can include intrusive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, tics, anxiety, and emotional instability.


  1. It is not evidence-based practice to administer medication alone for OCD.

Approximately 70% of people with OCD will experience symptom relief with therapy with or without medication. There is not enough evidence to demonstrate that administering medication alone for OCD does record benefits. There are studies that have demonstrated that medication, however, can prevent relapse once therapy ends. Therapy assists individuals in developing coping strategies, challenging irrational thoughts, and gradually confronting feared situations. Medication, on the other hand, can offer symptom relief and aid in preventing relapse while also supporting the maintenance of gains achieved through therapy.


  1. The most common form of OCD is checking (15.4%).

There are multiple OCD categories of symptoms, with the most common being checking (15.4%) and ordering (9.1%). Some of the other types of OCD are Contamination, Harm, Sexual orientation, Pedophilia, Relationships, Just right and Pure-O.


  1. OCD is slightly more common among women.

OCD affects both males and females equally in childhood. However, in adulthood, males tend to have an earlier age of onset, while females are more likely to develop OCD later in life. According to Sharma E, Balachander S, Lin B, Manohar H, Khanna P,  study, OCD across the lifespan slightly affects women more than men. Women (52.1%) and Men (47.9%).


  1. Mild to moderate OCD involves 1-3 hours a day of obsessive thinking and engaging in compulsions.

While individuals grappling with mild to moderate OCD may find themselves capable of navigating through their daily routines, the relentless intrusion of obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions can disrupt their overall well-being and functionality. Many individuals, however, experience constant intrusive thoughts and rituals. The untreated trajectory of OCD symptoms can perpetuate their persistence and potentially escalate in severity over time.


  1. 8%-37% of individuals with OCD also experience Body Dysmorphic Disorder

These individuals report highly distressing beliefs and preoccupations with one or more aspects of their appearance. Individuals with OCD affected by body dysmorphia spend hours concerned that something is wrong with their looks. For example, they may see flaws in their appearance, or they may feel like aspects of their looks may be changing, although others would not notice such flaws or changes. These thoughts and worries can be debilitating, consuming significant time and often resulting in frequent visits to the doctor’s office or emergency room.


  1. The opposite of hoarding is called Spartanism.

Compulsive decluttering is a pattern of behavior that is characterized by an excessive desire to discard objects from one’s home and living areas. Another term for this behavior is obsessive compulsive Spartanism. This is equally debilitating as individuals with Spartanism often dispose of clothes, towels, carpets, and other household items.


  1. Low levels of serotonin can cause OCD symptoms.

OCD is triggered by communication problems between the brain’s deeper structures and the front part of the brain. These parts of the brain primarily use serotonin to communicate. This is why increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain can help to alleviate OCD symptoms. There is no laboratory test to diagnose OCD.

Increasing serotonin levels in the brain can be achieved through various lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and therapeutic interventions. Medications such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed to increase serotonin levels.

Fun fact: Depletion of serotonin also occurs in people who have recently fallen in love. This may explain the obsessive component associated with early stages of love.


  1. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) can decrease OCD symptoms.

Refractory OCD refers to OCD that does not respond adequately to treatment, such as medication or therapy. In other words, it is OCD that persists despite efforts to treat it with conventional methods. Refractory OCD affects a fifth of patients with OCD.

Deep brain stimulation is a surgical procedure that implants a neurostimulator and electrodes, which send electrical impulses to specified targets in the brain. This procedure is primarily used to treat certain movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, and dystonia, but it is also being investigated as a potential treatment for conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and treatment-resistant depression.


  1. OCD commonly coexists with other mental health disorders.

Approximately 90% of individuals with OCD have at least one comorbid condition, such as depression, anxiety disorders, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) or eating disorders.


  1. OCD is one of the top ten disabling disorders.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder has been identified as one of the top ten disabling disorders by the World Health Organization (WHO). Individuals with OCD often engage in avoidance behaviors to alleviate discomfort, which can lead to reduced social interactions and a diminished quality of life. Many individuals with OCD remain undiagnosed and untreated. OCD exacerbates the condition’s impact and can lead to structural changes in the brain, making it more challenging to break the pattern of compulsive behaviors. Early intervention is imperative in effectively managing OCD and preventing long-term consequences.



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