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Children as Young as 4 Can Develop OCD

Full-blown obsessive symptoms seen in both younger, older children, study finds

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 8 (HealthDay News) -- Children as young as 4 can develop obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a new study says.

The study, published online by the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, found many parallels between young children with OCD and their older peers with the anxiety disorder. For example, both groups had similar obsessions and compulsions, multiple psychiatric diagnoses, and high rates of obsessive-compulsive disorder in their family history. However, the younger children were less likely to have depression than the older children.

"Our findings offer the first glimpse at the features and variables that emerge during early childhood-onset OCD, and will hopefully lead to further studies focusing on assessment and treatment of this age group," study author Abbe Garcia, director of the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center Pediatric Anxiety Research Clinic in Rhode Island, said in a clinic news release.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder causes a person to have recurring, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These compulsions -- such as hand washing, counting, checking or cleaning -- are often performed in hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing them brings only temporary relief and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.

Up to one in 200 children and adolescents may have obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

In their study of 58 children with OCD, aged 4 to 8, a fifth had an immediate family member with a history of the disorder. Roughly a fifth of the children also were diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Seventy-five percent of those studied reported having multiple obsessions, the most common being fear of contamination and catastrophic fears that involved death or harm to themselves or loved ones. Nearly all had multiple compulsive behaviors with an average of four per child. Washing, checking and repeating were the most common.

Garcia noted the importance of the study, saying, "early diagnosis and intervention are critical to reducing the severity of symptoms and improving quality of life."

More information

The National Institute of Mental Health has more about obsessive-compulsive disorder.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center, news release, Sept. 30, 2008

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