People with obsessive-compulsive disorder face a much higher risk of death — from natural and unnatural causes, according to a shocking new study out of Sweden.

OCD, which affects 2% to 3% of Americans, is characterized by recurring thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors such as excessive hand washing and arranging objects in a precise way (compulsions).

This new research is reported to be the largest study of mortality in people with OCD.

Researchers identified 61,378 Swedes with the condition and matched them with 613,780 people without OCD by sex, birth year, and county of residence.

They also studied 34,085 people with OCD and 47,874 of their siblings without it.

The groups were monitored for an average of eight years between January 1973 and December 2020. 

During the study period, 4,787 people with OCD and 30,619 people without it died.

Scientists determined that people with OCD had an 82% increased risk of death — after adjusting for factors such as birth year, sex, county, migrant status, education, and family income.

Their findings were published Wednesday in the BMJ journal.

People with OCD face a 31% increased risk of natural death and a three-fold greater risk of dying of an unnatural cause.

The natural causes of death by increased risk are:

  • Respiratory system diseases (73%)
  • Mental and behavioral disorders (58%)
  • Genital and urinary system diseases (55%)
  • Endocrine, nutritional, and metabolic diseases (47%)
  • Circulatory system diseases (33%)
  • Nervous system disease (21%)
  • Digestive system diseases (20%)

However, people with OCD had a 10% reduced risk of death due to tumors.

Among the unnatural causes, researchers identified a nearly fivefold increased risk of suicide and a 92% greater risk of accidents.

Women with OCD had a higher relative risk of dying of unnatural causes than men with OCD, researchers said, noting that OCD is slightly more prevalent in women than in men.

It’s unclear what exactly causes OCD, but genetics and environmental factors such as pregnancy complications and childhood trauma have been studied.

Psychotherapy and antidepressants are often used to treat the condition.

“Better surveillance, prevention, and early intervention strategies should be implemented to reduce the risk of fatal outcomes in people with OCD,” the researchers wrote in their findings.

They noted there were some limitations to their study.

The patient data used in the research only includes diagnoses made in specialist care, which may have resulted in the inclusion of people suffering from more severe forms of OCD.

The scientists are also unsure if their findings apply to people outside of Sweden with different healthcare systems and medical practices.

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