Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterized by intrusive, anxious thoughts that often result in ritualistic behaviors and routines. These can be inescapable thoughts and actions that are distinguished by the way in which they interfere with an individual's ability to function on a daily basis.


Symptoms of OCD can be divided into obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are described as being "ego dystonic" which means that even though the person who experiences them recognizes them as their own thoughts, they feel the obsessions are outside of their control.

Obsessions that are symptomatic of OCD include:

  • Severe anxiety and obsessive thoughts regarding contamination and germs
  • Worrying about having done something bad by accident (e.g., accidentally running someone over with a car)
  • Worrying about having forgotten something important (e.g., forgetting to lock a door)
  • Needing to have things in a particular order (e.g., having things arranged symmetrically)
  • Fear of social embarrassment that triggers compulsions
  • Repeated thoughts or images
  • Cannot control intrusive thoughts
  • At least 1 hour per day is spent dealing with intrusive thoughts and compulsions

Compulsions are repetitive physical or mental actions that a person engages in to reduce anxiety. Often, the compulsion is designed to counteract or undo an obsession. Those that are symptomatic of OCD include:

  • Excessive checking (e.g., to make sure doors are locked or to make sure some type of mistake wasn't made)
  • Excessive counting
  • Repetitive praying

Who's At Risk?

On average, one-third of adults show signs of OCD as children, and are later diagnosed around age 19. OCD does not seem to affect one gender more than another. Research has yet to provide evidence-based, direct causes of OCD. However, the following factors are noted as possible contributors to the disorder:

  • Family history of OCD
  • Abnormal levels of serotonin in the brain
  • Experiencing a highly stressful or traumatic event
  • Depression


In order to qualify for a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, someone must have either obsessions or compulsions (or both) and these must interfere with their daily functioning. The person must also recognize, to some degree, that the obsessions and/or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.

Treatment Options

OCD is often treated with both therapy and medications. Some patients respond best when the two are combined.


Psychotherapy is commonly used to help with OCD. Psychotherapy involves helping the individual to see the connection between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Once this connection is understood, therapists will work with patients using a variety of techniques to change the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that underlie and perpetuate the OCD.

One psychotherapeutic approach, exposure therapy, is also popularly used when treating OCD. In exposure therapy, patients are asked to confront the triggers of their convulsions in order to help desensitize them. For example, a person who compulsively cleans may be asked to stand in a filthy room and resist the urge to tidy up.


Anti-anxiety medications and antidepressants are most commonly prescribed for OCD.

Consult your doctor if you believe you have any of the symptoms related to this disorder and discuss the benefits and risks of any medication or therapy that could potentially be used to treat your symptoms.

Source: National Institute of Mental Health.