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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, involves anxious thoughts or rituals you feel you can't control. If you have Obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may be plagued by persistent, unwelcome thoughts or images, or by the urgent need to engage in certain rituals.

You may be obsessed with germs or dirt, so you wash your hands over and over. You may be filled with doubt and feel the need to check things repeatedly. You may have frequent thoughts of violence, and fear that you will harm people close to you. You may spend long periods touching things or counting; you may be pre-occupied by order or symmetry; you may have persistent thoughts of performing sexual acts that are repugnant to you; or you may be troubled by thoughts that are against your religious beliefs.

The disturbing thoughts or images are called obsessions, and the rituals that are performed to try to prevent or get rid of them are called compulsions. There is no pleasure in carrying out the rituals you are drawn to, only temporary relief from the anxiety that grows when you don't perform them.

A lot of healthy people can identify with some of the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as checking the stove several times before leaving the house. But for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, such activities consume at least an hour a day, are very distressing, and interfere with daily life.

Most adults with this condition recognize that what they're doing is senseless, but they can't stop it. Some people, though, particularly children with obsessive-compulsive disorder, may not realize that their behavior is out of the ordinary.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder afflicts about 3.3 million adult Americans.1 It strikes men and women in approximately equal numbers and usually first appears in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. One-third of adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder report having experienced their first symptoms as children. The course of the disease is variable-symptoms may come and go, they may ease over time, or they can grow progressively worse. Research evidence suggests that Obsessive-compulsive disorder might run in families.3

Depression or other anxiety disorders may accompany obsessive-compulsive disorder, and some people with obsessive-compulsive disorder also have eating disorders.6 In addition, people with Obsessive-compulsive disorder may avoid situations in which they might have to confront their obsessions, or they may try unsuccessfully to use alcohol or drugs to calm themselves. If Obsessive-compulsive disorder grows severe enough, it can keep someone from keeping a job or from carrying out normal responsibilities at home.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder generally responds well to treatment with medications or carefully targeted psychotherapy.

The disturbing thoughts or images are called obsessions, and the rituals performed to try to prevent or get rid of them are called compulsions. There is no pleasure in carrying out the rituals you are drawn to, only temporary relief from the anxiety that grows when you don't perform them.

NIH Publication No. 01-4928

 

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