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What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder in which people have recurring thoughts, fears, or sensations (obsessions). These obsessions can cause a stressful response, like anxiety, which then makes them do something repetitively (compulsions) to distract or help them ignore the worry the obsession is causing. Repetitive behaviors can include hand washing, cleaning, or counting rituals. These behaviors may affect a person’s daily activities. OCD can often lead to other mental health problems, such as depression.

Typical obsessions may include excessive concerns about contamination or harm. Most people with OCD will try to ignore these obsessions. This leads the person to perform the repetitive behaviors. In severe cases, he or she may perform these behaviors several times a day. Everyone has habits or rituals that are performed regularly. For people with OCD, these routines are very rigid, and failure to perform the repetitive behaviors will often cause distress.

OCD often begins in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. In childhood it effects more boys, but by adulthood, typically more women are effected then men.

When to See a Doctor

If you have symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, you should contact your healthcare provider or a mental health specialist.

Causes

Research shows that communication problems in the brain may cause obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Why these problems occur, however, are unknown.

People with close relatives who have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are at greater risk for developing the disorder. Some environmental contacts, such as strep infections during childhood, or exposure to physical or sexual abuse, can also increase the risk of OCD. Temperament may also be a risk factor. People who keep their feelings inside, worry or have depressed thinking styles, or who were withdrawn as children may be more likely to experience OCD.

Diagnosis and Tests

There is no single diagnostic test for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist for a physiological examination. During this exam, the specialist will discuss your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. He or she may also talk to your friends and family about your symptoms.

OCD may be diagnosed when the following symptoms occur:

  • Obsessions, compulsions, or both
  • Obsessions or compulsions that are time consuming and case major distress
  • Obsessions or compulsions that interfere with social, work, or basic life functions

Treatments

Treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder is designed to relieve and control obsessions and compulsions and prevent symptoms from getting worse.

Treatment often includes a mix of antidepressant medications and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT teaches people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to cope with the obsessions that cause stress, reduce fears or worries, and manage their compulsions.

A healthy lifestyle is also important for patients with OCD. Basic relaxation techniques, such as yoga and meditation, and drug and alcohol avoidance can help people manage their obsessive symptoms better.

Prevention

Although there are no prevention measures to stop a person from developing obsessive-compulsive disorder, decreasing the factors that have been shown to increase the risk of developing the disorder (environmental and temperamental) may be helpful.

Symptoms

Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder include both obsessive and compulsive behaviors.

Signs of obsession include:

  • Repeated unwanted ideas
  • Recurring fears of something (such as germs)
  • Excessive worry
  • Aggressive impulses
  • Thoughts that you may be harmed or that you may cause others harm

Signs of compulsion include:

  • Constant checking
  • Constant counting
  • Repeatedly washing your hands
  • Arranging items to face a certain direction
  • Saying words silently, over and over