What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by the presence of recurring thoughts, ideas or sensations (called obsessions) that drive a person to do something repetitively (this is called compulsion).
These repetitive behaviors can significantly interfere with a person’s work, social, and family life.
What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder?
Experts aren’t sure exactly what causes OCD, but it may be associated with the following:
- Certain personality traits
- Chemical, structural, and functional abnormalities in the brain
- Genetic and hereditary reasons
- Hormonal changes
- Preexisting distorted beliefs
- Significant life events.
What are the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder?
Repetitive behaviors may include:
- Checking on things constantly (eg, that a door is closed, or an electrical appliance is switched off)
- Cleaning every day
- Constant praying
- Excessive concerns about contamination or harm
- Ordering and rearranging to reduce discomfort
- Persistent thoughts of a religious or sexual nature
- The need for symmetry or exactness
- Uttering a name or a phrase repeatedly to dispel anxiety.
How is obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosed?
Many people are quite focused on their daily tasks and often have routines that they stick to religiously. However, if these add structure to a person’s life rather than disrupt it, then this is unlikely to be OCD.
People with OCD have persistent thoughts, and their behaviors are rigid, so much so that not doing them causes great distress. Although some people with OCD believe their obsessions are true (poor insight), many others know or suspect that they are not true but still have a hard time thinking about thoughts other than their obsessions or stopping the compulsive actions.
See your doctor if you are having persistent thoughts that cause you to act out repetitive behaviors.
Your doctor will take a history and perform a physical examination. For OCD to be diagnosed, an obsession or compulsion that causes major distress, impairs work, social or other important functioning must be present for at least one hour per day.
How is obsessive compulsive disorder treated?
Treatment depends on the disruptiveness of the OCD and the level of insight the person has into their behavior and may include:
- Medications, such as SSRI antidepressants
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
- Self-help strategies and education about coping behaviors
- Relaxation techniques, such as mediation, yoga, visualization, and massage.