Does OCD Get Worse With Age?
Have you heard the story of the boy who couldn’t stop washing? In her book called ‘The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Washing: The Experience and Treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder’ Judith L. Rapport tells the story of a boy who would repeatedly wash for six hours each day but couldn’t check the obsessive thoughts that he wasn’t clean yet.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition characterized by repetitive, intrusive, and persistent thoughts and impulses to the extent that it is distressing and undesirable.
In most cases, this condition is discovered early on, around 12. Since it is discovered quite early in most cases, most people start to wonder if it will get worse with age, like a lot of other health conditions out there.
The truth is, OCD, like many health conditions, will get worse if it is not treated. However, it is not as simple as this which is why this article will take a concise look at this condition and the effect age has on its severity.
What Does Having Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Do To You?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is not as rare as I would like it to be. Over 6 million Americans are suffering from this condition. And according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, about 2.2 million of these cases are adults. It affects everyone equally, irrespective of sex and living conditions.
The average age of onset is 7 years, with most diagnoses being between the 10-12 and 18-25 age groups. However, diagnosis can be done at any age, depending on when you start showing symptoms. The earlier OCD symptoms appear, the higher the chances of it being acute.
People who develop OCD are stuck in a cycle. They find themselves compelled to have certain thoughts or perform certain actions again and again, And when they do, it only offers temporary relief. If they try to ignore compulsive behaviors, they get increasingly nervous to a level that affects the quality of their life.
If you are suffering from OCD, you will find that it is very difficult, bordering on impossible, to control your obsessive thoughts.
Other Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms.
People with obsessive-compulsive disorders tend to develop behavioral symptoms like compulsive behavior, agitation, repetitive movements, and distressing thoughts. In severe cases, these compulsive actions might lead to social isolation, which could make OCD worse.
It is not uncommon to see OCD patients develop mood disorders. They are prone to anxiety, panic attacks, and heightened apprehension levels. This might cause extreme discomfort and lead to depression and other psychological disorders.
A common occurrence during obsessive-compulsive disorder is that the symptoms fluctuate. This is why it is a bit difficult to diagnose at first.
Does OCD get better with age?
You might have heard that OCD is an anxiety disorder, and you are worried that it might deteriorate with age, like other types of mental conditions, which is a valid worry.
There are two major types of OCD in relation to age. There is the early onset OCD which is the case for people who start showing symptoms in their early adolescence before they turn 18 years, and then there is the late-onset OCD seen in people who develop the condition during early adulthood.
The idea of early-onset OCD wasn’t widely known or accepted until a case series was published in 1991, which detailed the possibility that this condition might have an earlier onset.
In this situation, patients start showing symptoms during late childhood, before 18. If you notice symptoms early on, there is a 60% chance that the condition will last throughout your life. It could slowly disappear as you age, or it could be chronic. There is no way to be sure except by getting a proper diagnosis from a mental health physician.
If you have a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, you can learn to live with the symptoms, especially if they do not affect the general quality of your life. However, ignoring your symptoms because they do not affect you yet, is not generally a good idea.
When you do not treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, the symptoms worsen over time. You will notice a fluctuation in severity, and eventually, you might end up completely isolated because of how strong the symptoms are.
What Could Cause My OCD To Get Worse?
If you notice that your OCD symptoms are getting worse, it could be due to stress. Getting overwhelmed can easily bring back or worsen symptoms of OCD.
Pregnancy and childbirth also seem to affect the severity of this condition, although in these cases, symptoms return to base level with treatment after childbirth.
Misusing certain drugs can also increase the severity of OCD symptoms. It is not uncommon to see people misusing substances to try and cover up the severity of their conditions.
They take a glass of wine and then take ten, hoping that it will help them cope with the condition. However, the opposite is usually the case, as it might make your OCD worse,
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a condition of the mind, so anything that affects your mental well-being has the potential to affect it. Trauma and abuse are causes of significant damage to the psyche, and people with a history of abuse tend to have more severe symptoms.
While it is not always the case, your OCD symptoms might get more severe because you haven’t healed from potentially traumatic life circumstances.
Does Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Get Better?
While there is no cure to completely eradicate OCD symptoms, there are treatment models designed to relieve OCD symptoms.
Psychotherapy methods are designed with conditions like this in mind. The goal is to find ways to handle the conditions without having a relapse. There are a few effective treatments open to people with this condition. Some of these therapies focus on coping strategies to manage these intrusive thoughts.
One of the most common ways to treat OCD is exposure and response prevention therapy, a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on gradually exposing them to the object of their obsessions and figuring out a way to prevent compulsive actions.
This treatment method aims to equip the person with better coping skills to manage the distressing and unwanted thoughts better.
It can also be treated with certain medications. There is no specific medication that works for everyone, so getting your treatment over the counter is not an option.
The mind is fragile, so ensure you work with a psychiatrist for the best treatment result. Obsessive-compulsive disorder requires continuous management as it never completely disappears.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder will improve with therapy, and sometimes it might even look as if symptoms have stopped completely. However, they will probably come back as symptom fluctuation is common among people.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is becoming more and more common, and like many mental disorders, self-diagnosis is difficult because many people do not notice the condition until symptoms become debilitating. Treatment procedures ensure that your symptoms do not get too severe.
However, they are a continuous process that spreads out throughout one’s life in most cases. OCD doesn’t get worse with age if you seek treatment; however, if you ignore the symptoms, the condition might continue to deteriorate.
There have been several cases of people with untreated OCD who attempted suicide because they could not keep up with the symptoms anymore.
Other conditions might worsen OCD symptoms, like trauma, pregnancy, childbirth, and substance abuse. If you think you have this condition visit your mental health expert for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Author: Michelle Landeros, LMFT
Michelle Landeros is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist (LMFT). She is passionate about helping individuals, couples and families thrive.
Last updated: November 29, 2023