Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unwanted and uncontrollable thoughts, impulses, or images, including thoughts of contamination, harming self or others, committing violent acts or other moral transgressions. These obsessions cause great distress and often take up a great amount of time. Their uncontrollability creates anxiety and distress.

In response to obsessions, people feel compelled to engage in repetitive behaviors that are designed to undo or prevent the obsession from occurring. These repetitive behaviors, known as compulsions, include washing, cleaning, checking, ordering, counting and hoarding. People with OCD are often unwilling to perform these behaviors and sometimes try to resist, but eventually the compulsion is too strong, and engaging in the ritual brings temporary relief. The rituals may take many hours to complete. Although both obsessions and compulsions represent the classic picture of this condition, the disorder sometimes occurs in other ways. For example, young children are more likely to have only compulsions and when asked why they have to do certain things repetitively, will respond that they do not know, they just have to do it until it “feels right”.

How Common is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

OCD was once considered to be a rare disorder but recent community surveys suggest that about 2.5% of the general population may suffer from OCD. OCD can occur at any age. Children and adolescents, as well as adults, suffer from this disorder. As with most other anxiety disorders, what causes OCD is not known. Some have suggested that it results from a disturbance in brain chemistry but this has not been established for certain. OCD does seem to run in families but most individuals with OCD do not have a close relative with this disorder.