OCD in Children

As with adults, children with OCD have symptoms involving patterns of repetitive thoughts and behaviors, such as compulsive handwashing. A major clinical trial found that the condition in children and adolescents is best treated with a combination of psychotherapy and an antidepressant. Parents who notice possible symptoms in children or adolescents are encouraged to seek prompt medical attention to avoid complications in adulthood.

Children and OCD: An Overview

Children and adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder, sometimes called OCD, become trapped in a pattern of repetitive thoughts and behaviors. Even though they may recognize that the thoughts or behaviors appear senseless and distressing, the pattern is hard to stop. Compulsive behaviors may include:
 
  • Repeated handwashing
  • Counting
  • Compulsively arranging and rearranging objects.
 
About 2 in every 100 adolescents experience obsessive-compulsive disorder.
 

Treatment Options for OCD in Children

A major clinical trial has found that children and adolescents with OCD respond best to a combination of psychotherapy and an antidepressant. Supported by the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Mental Health, the study recommends that treatment begin with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), either alone or with a serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant. The research spotlights the need for improved access to CBT, since most young people with OCD currently receive only the antidepressant, often combined with an antipsychotic medication.
 

Study Results

Ninety-seven 7- to 17-year-olds with OCD completed 12 weeks of treatment with CBT, the SSRI sertraline, the combination treatment, or a placebo.
 
Combining sertraline and CBT was more effective than treatment with just one or the other. CBT alone did prove superior to sertraline, which, in turn, was better than a placebo. By the end of the trial, the remission rates were 53.6 percent for combined treatment, 39.3 percent for CBT, 21.4 percent for sertraline, and 3.6 percent for placebo.
 
There were no episodes of mania, suicide, or other serious adverse events during the course of the study.
 
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