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Can strep throat cause obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

OCD may be related to a common type of infectious disease -- the group A beta-hemolytic streptococcal infections, which include strep throat and scarlet fever. Antibodies recruited by the immune system to defeat these bacteria can attack the body's own tissues, damaging the heart and inflaming the joints. There are signs that, especially in children, these antibodies can also infiltrate the brain -- the basal ganglia, in particular -- causing what is awkwardly named "pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections," or PANDAS. The symptoms of this controversial diagnosis include obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior.

There is additional evidence that these symptoms can appear soon after a streptococcus infection. In a study of children ages 4 to 13 that compared healthy children with those who had OCD, Tourette syndrome, and tic disorders, researchers found a high rate of strep infections in the three months before symptoms of these conditions appeared. A child who suffered several infections of the group A beta-hemolytic streptococcal type had nearly 14 times the average risk of developing OCD or related disorders in the following year.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.