Although some people with OCD notice that their symptoms improve with age, others may find that older age brings a new set of triggers that can challenge OCD symptoms.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health condition characterized by intrusive, repetitive obsessions and compulsive behaviors.

This article will explore the effects of age on OCD symptoms and severity, as well as how treatment can help you better manage your OCD symptoms in the long run.

It can be difficult to predict whether someone’s OCD symptoms will get better or worse as they age. This is because different factors can affect OCD severity.

Some people may notice that their OCD improves as they get older because they’re able to use the coping skills they’ve learned over time to manage their symptoms. In fact, research suggests that treatment can improve OCD symptoms and allow people to live more fulfilling lives.

However, not everyone can afford or access treatment, and without it, OCD may worsen over time. Compounded by stressful experiences like becoming seriously ill or going through a divorce, adulthood can become a triggering time for people with untreated OCD.

How common is OCD?

Around 2.5 million adults in the United States, or 1.2% of the country’s adult population, live with the symptoms of OCD.

Statistics suggest that 25% of people with OCD develop it by the age of 14 years, with the average onset at 19 years.

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According to some research, OCD more commonly affects males in childhood but increases in prevalence in females during adolescence and adulthood. However, for multiple reasons, puberty can influence OCD symptoms regardless of sex.

First, several mental health conditions — including depression, anxiety, and other behavior disorders — can develop during adolescence. Children going through puberty who also have these conditions may notice that their symptoms become more difficult to handle.

Adolescence also brings change. From peer pressure to new responsibilities, life can become stressful during the transition from childhood. Experiencing stress or trauma during this period of life can lead to the onset of adolescent OCD or make symptoms worse.

One study from 2010 found that the rate of OCD in postmenopausal females was 7.1%, which is far higher than the prevalence of OCD in the general population. One of the reasons for this may stem from the effect that hormones can have on mental health.

During menopause and perimenopause, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate, sometimes drastically. As the levels of these hormones rise and fall, it can lead to a variety of physical and emotional symptoms — including a worsening of conditions like OCD.

Other factors in OCD’s progression

Older age also brings other mental health challenges that can compound OCD symptoms, in people of all sexes and genders.

In the same study mentioned above, the researchers found that 63.2% of the participants with OCD also had other mental health conditions. Anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, and other mental and physical conditions can potentially make OCD symptoms more difficult to cope with.

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Even though several factors can affect the way someone’s OCD changes with age, one of the factors with the most influence is treatment. Studies even suggest that anywhere from 32% to upward of 70% of adults can recover from OCD with treatment.

One treatment option that can help manage long-term OCD symptoms is medication. Several medication options exist for OCD, but the most common include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is another option that may be more effective than medication alone for treating OCD symptoms. ERP is a type of exposure therapy that teaches you how to tolerate your obsessions, and the anxiety they cause, without needing to resort to compulsions.

If you’re interested in exploring treatment options for OCD but don’t know where to start, here are some resources to check out:

OCD is a chronic condition that can cause severe and even debilitating symptoms. However, research has shown that OCD symptoms can get better with treatment — in adulthood and beyond.

If you’ve been finding it difficult to function because of OCD symptoms, consider mentioning your concerns to a trusted healthcare professional. Together, you can explore options and create a long-term treatment plan that will help you manage your symptoms.