A recent study sheds light on the grim reality that individuals grappling with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) face an 82 percent higher likelihood of premature death, both from natural and unnatural causes, compared to those without the condition.
While prior research hinted at increased mortality rates among OCD sufferers, specific causes remained understudied, with suicide being a notable exception. Interestingly, individuals with OCD exhibit suicide rates akin to those with other mental health disorders.
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OCD, affecting approximately 2 percent of the global population, manifests through distressing intrusive thoughts and the compulsion to perform time-consuming rituals, severely impacting daily life and functioning.
Researchers at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden delved into the specifics of elevated mortality rates in OCD, utilizing comprehensive Swedish population registers covering over four decades (1973-2020). Analyzing data from 61,378 individuals with an OCD diagnosis and 613,780 without, the study revealed an unsettling pattern.
Individuals with OCD succumbed to an earlier average age (69 vs. 78 years), with an 82 percent higher risk of death during the study period. This increased risk stemmed from both natural (31 percent) and unnatural causes (230 percent).
Unprecedentedly, the study identified specific natural causes contributing to the elevated mortality. Those with OCD faced heightened risks associated with lung diseases (73 percent), mental and behavioral disorders (58 percent), urinary and reproductive organ diseases (55 percent), endocrine, nutritional, and metabolic diseases (47 percent), blood vessel diseases (33 percent), nervous system disorders (21 percent), and digestive system issues (20 percent). Intriguingly, the risk of death due to cancer was 13 percent lower for individuals with OCD.
Among unnatural causes, suicide played a pivotal role, contributing to a nearly fivefold increased risk in those with OCD. Additionally, individuals with OCD exhibited a 92 percent higher risk of death from accidents, including traffic accidents or falls.
These findings persisted even after considering other mental health disorders and comparing individuals with OCD to their non-OCD-afflicted siblings. This underscores that the elevated risks are likely tied to OCD itself rather than shared genetic or environmental factors.
While the percentages of deaths due to specific causes were relatively small, the implications are profound. Despite the small percentages, individuals with OCD face higher risks across various causes, warranting urgent attention from healthcare professionals. The majority of these risks are associated with preventable factors, including non-communicable diseases and external causes such as accidents and suicide.
Though the results may be disheartening for those with OCD, the hope is that they prompt healthcare providers to enhance care for this population. Moreover, raising awareness about these risks may motivate individuals with OCD to adopt preventive measures, such as regular exercise and a healthy diet, to mitigate the potential for ill health and premature death.