Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) facts

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by irresistible thoughts or images (obsessions) and/or rigid rituals/behaviors that may be driven by obsessions (compulsions).
  • OCD occurs in a small percentage of populations worldwide across cultures and has been known to the field of medicine for at least 100 years.
  • The average age of onset of OCD is 19 years of age, and it usually begins by 30 years of age.
  • OCD sufferers are more likely than those who do not have the disorder to also suffer from other anxiety disorders.
  • While there is no known specific cause for OCD, the presence of the illness in other family members and an imbalance of the brain chemical serotonin are thought to increase the likelihood of OCD developing.
  • OCD is diagnosed by the practitioner looking for signs and symptoms of this and other emotional problems, as well as ensuring that there is no medical condition that could be contributing to development of OCD.
  • OCD tends to respond most to a combination of behavior therapies (exposure and ritual prevention), group or individual cognitive behavioral therapy, and medications.
  • Although not as effective in treating OCD as clomipramine, SSRIs are the group of medications that are most often used to treat this illness since the SSRIs tend to cause fewer side effects.
  • SSRIs are thought to work by increasing the activity of serotonin in the brain.
  • When the combination of psychotherapy and SSRI treatment is not sufficiently effective, neuroleptic medications may be added to improve the treatment outcome.
  • For some people with severe OCD symptoms, deep brain stimulation can be helpful, and the use of hallucinogen medication as a treatment modality continues to be researched.
  • Although the symptoms of OCD may last indefinitely, its prognosis is best when the sufferer has milder symptoms that have been present for a short time, and the person has no other emotional problems.
  • Without treatment, OCD can worsen to the point that the sufferer has physical problems, becomes emotionally unable to function, or experiences suicidal thoughts. About 1% of OCD sufferers complete suicide.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/21/2014

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), More Common Than You Think

Obsessive compulsive disorder is common. It affects over 2% of the population, more than 1 in 50 people. More people suffer from it than from panic disorder or from bipolar depression.

Obsessions themselves are the unwanted thoughts or impulses that seem to "pop up" repeatedly in the mind. These intruding thoughts can be fears, unreasonable worries, or a need to do things. When a person is tense or under stress, the obsessions can worsen.

Compulsions are the behaviors that may result from the obsessive thoughts. The most common compulsions include repetitive washing (hands or objects) and "checking" behaviors. Compulsions may be rituals, repeating certain actions, counting, or other recurrent behaviors. Some people with obsessive compulsive disorder are obsessed with germs or dirt.

People with obsessive compulsive disorder can have mild or severe symptoms. Those with mild obsessive compulsive disorder may be able to control their compulsive behaviors for certain periods of time (for example, at work) and may successfully hide their condition. However, in severe cases, obsessive compulsive disorder can interfere with social functioning and cause disability.