Last Updated: October 25, 2017
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness characterized by recurring unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that produce fear and anxiety. These obsessions trigger repetitive behaviors (compulsions) performed in an attempt to control the obsessions and relieve anxiety.
Typical obsessions include excessive fear of germs or suffering harm. Common compulsions are excessive cleansing and repeatedly checking the same thing over and over.
OCD equally affects males and females. Typically, the disorder starts in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood. Untreated OCD causes disruptive chronic symptoms, which persist for years. However, proper treatment can be very effective in alleviating this condition.
The cause of OCD is unknown. Research suggests that the disorder involves some sort of abnormality in the parts of the brain that control fear and anxiety. OCD runs in certain families, supporting the possibility of a genetic component in this condition. Environmental factors, stress, or infections may also play a role in triggering this disease.
The most common symptom of OCD is anxiety. Individuals with OCD spend a tremendous amount of time engaged in fearful thoughts and behaviors that interfere with their ability to function at work or school. Overwhelming anxiety and abnormal behaviors eventually harm close personal relationships.
In OCD, a person is plagued by intrusive thoughts, which cause worry, anxiety, and fear. These thoughts will not go away and cannot be controlled.
Obsessions associated with OCD include the following:
In response to an obsession, a person with OCD is driven to perform certain rituals or repetitive behaviors to guard against a feared situation. Such behaviors are an attempt to briefly dispel anxiety. Most people with OCD find their rituals distressing, senseless, and futile. Nevertheless, they feel unable to stop the behaviors.
Typical compulsions include the following:
The diagnosis of OCD is generally based on the presence of classic symptoms and behaviors. Although OCD is a mental illness, the evaluation should include a complete physical examination to rule out medical conditions that affect mental capacities.
The goal of treatment is to reduce anxiety and improve a person’s functioning in daily life. Effective treatment for OCD requires a considerable amount of time and cooperation on the part of the patient.
There are no known methods to prevent OCD. Early treatment is recommended to control the disorder and prevent worsening symptoms.