What is OCD?

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a neurobiological anxiety disorder, characterized by intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and a need to perform repetitive and ritualistic behaviors (compulsions). When these compulsions are suppressed, intense anxiety takes hold of the patient. It equally affects men, women and children of all races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. OCD is the fourth most common psychiatric disorder, after phobias, substance abuse and major depression, affecting about one in 40 adults and one in 100 school-aged children.

What are Obsessions?

An obsession is defined as a thought, impulse or image that either recurs or persists and causes severe anxiety. These thoughts are irresistible to the OCD sufferer despite the person's realizing that these thoughts are irrational. Examples of obsessions include worries about germs/cleanliness or about safety or order. A compulsion is a ritual/behavior that the individual with OCD engages in repeatedly, either because of their obsessions or according to a rigid set of rules. The aforementioned obsessions may result in compulsions like excessive hand washing, skin picking, lock checking, or repeatedly arranging items. Different than compulsions, habits are behaviors that occur with little to no thought, are repeated routinely, are not done in response to an obsession, are not particularly time-consuming, and do not cause stress.

How can OCD be recognized?

OCD obsessions are persistent and uncontrollable worries, fears or doubts. They are intrusive, unwanted and disturbing. Most people with OCD are frustrated by the obsessions, and often recognize that the obsessions and the resulting compulsions are irrational.
People who have OCD feel compelled to perform certain mental or physical rituals (compulsions) over and over and over again to feel some measure of relief from the continuing anxiety, fears or doubts caused by the obsessions.

How is OCD treated?

There are two main options for treating OCD: medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Many medications exist and have been shown to be very effective in the treatment of OCD. Among the ones most commonly used are the antidepressants (SSRIs and clomipramine) that work on the serotonin system. Both medications and cognitive behavioral therapy have advantages and disadvantages, which should be discussed with your doctor. Cognitive behavioral therapy is also an effective treatment using techniques of exposure and response prevention.


Far too often, people with OCD suffer in silence, unaware that their symptoms are caused by a biological problem. Just as with many other illnesses, like asthma or diabetes, people with OCD can learn to manage their symptoms. Appropriate treatment produces changes in the brain so that it functions more normally by weakening old neurological pathways and strengthening new ones. And fortunately, the medical profession is continuing to find ways to understand and treat OCD. The prognosis for people who suffer with OCD is more hopeful than ever before.



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