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

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, PhD

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that may result in repetitive behaviors (compulsions).

Obsessive compulsive disorder is common. It affects over 2% of the population, more than one in 50 people. More people suffer from OCD 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 and occupational functioning and cause disability.