Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness that causes anxiety. People with OCD have uncontrollable obsessions (fears, thoughts, or urges). They try to lessen anxiety with repetitive actions, called compulsions. OCD causes distress and interferes with normal life. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and medications can help.
- OCD obsessions: People with OCD have repetitive and distressing fears or urges they can’t control. These obsessive thoughts cause intense anxiety.
- OCD compulsions: To control obsessions and anxiety, people with OCD turn to certain behaviors, rituals, or routines. They do so repeatedly. They don’t want to perform these compulsive behaviors and don’t get pleasure from them. But they feel like they have to follow along or their anxiety will get worse. Compulsions only help temporarily, though. The obsessions soon come back, triggering a return to the compulsions. This loop leads to a constant cycle of anxiety.
Everyone experiences obsessions and compulsions at some point. For example, it’s common to occasionally double-check the stove or the locks. Some people also just like things neat. But OCD is more extreme. It can take up hours of a person’s day. It gets in the way of normal life and activities.
OCD is fairly common, affecting about 1% of the population. It happens among people of all races and backgrounds, as well as both sexes. It usually starts when people are younger, from childhood to early adulthood.
The symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder
The symptoms of OCD are obsessions and compulsions that interfere with normal activities. For example, symptoms may often prevent you from getting to work on time. Or you may have trouble getting ready for bed in a reasonable amount of time. A person with OCD may know they have a problem but can’t stop.
Examples of obsessive thoughts
Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts that cause intense anxiety. Examples include:
- Fear of germs or dirt.
- Fear of causing harm to someone else.
- Fear of making a mistake.
- Fear of being embarrassed in public.
- Feelings of doubt or disgust.
- Need for order, neatness, symmetry or perfection.
- Need for constant reassurance.
- Sexual thoughts that society may consider unacceptable.
Examples of compulsive behaviors
Compulsions are actions someone takes in an attempt to get rid of obsessions or anxiety. Examples include:
- Arranging things in a very specific way, such as items on your dresser.
- Bathing, cleaning or washing hands over and over.
- Checking certain things repeatedly, such as a lock or the stove.
- Collecting or hoarding things that have no personal or financial value.
- Constantly checking that you haven’t done someone harm.
- Counting repeatedly or saying certain words or prayers while doing other tasks.
- Eating food in a specific order.
- Refusing to shake hands or touch objects that other people touch a lot, like doorknobs.
- Performing a task a specific number of times, such as always flipping a light switch seven times.
People with OCD may also have tics — brief, sudden, repetitive movements or actions, like:
- Blinking their eyes.
- Jerking their head.
- Shrugging their shoulders.
- Sniffling their nose or clearing their throat.
Treatments are available for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
If you have symptoms of OCD that interfere with your daily life, you should talk to a Visit us. A professional who is specially trained in mental illness can offer several strategies:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy. You will talk to a therapist, who will help you examine and understand your thoughts and emotions. Over several sessions, CBT can help you stop negative habits, perhaps replacing them with healthier ways to cope.
- Medications: Drugs called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), selective SRIs (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants may help. They increase levels of serotonin. Examples include clomipramine, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, paroxetine and sertraline.
- Exposure and response prevention (EX/RP): With this therapy, you do the thing that causes anxiety. The healthcare provider then prevents you from responding with a compulsion. For example, the provider may ask you to touch dirty objects but then stop you from washing your hands.