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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 


Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder.  People with OCD experience obsessive thoughts, compulsions, or both.  Obsessions are recurrent thoughts, ideas, feelings, or sensations that play over and over again in a person’s mind.  Compulsions are actions or behaviors that a person feels compelled to do, in some cases, to relieve an obsession.  Most people with OCD experience symptoms before the age of 30.  OCD is treated with medication, therapy, or a combination of treatments.

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The exact cause of OCD is unknown.  Researchers suspect that it may link to several circumstances.  The most prevailing research suggests that OCD develops because of brain abnormalities.  It may be that brain structures do not function, as they should or that chemicals in the brain do not carry messages accurately.  It appears that OCD may run in families.  Many people with OCD have family members with OCD or another anxiety disorder.  Researchers are studying various genes to try to identify how OCD is passed on to family members.  It appears that some people that experience a strep infection or a traumatic brain injury develop OCD.  Because of recent research, former psychological theories appear to be a less likely cause of OCD.

OCD typically develops in children, teenagers, and young adults.  Most people with OCD experience symptoms by the time they are 30 years old.  It affects males and females in equal numbers.

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Symptoms of obessive compulsive disorder (OCD) vary from person to person.  Your symptoms may come and go, get better with time, or become worse.  Symptoms are time consuming and may last from an hour or more each day.  Severe symptoms may interfere with your ability to develop social relationships, work, attend school, and perform household activities.  Some people avoid activities or situations that seem to trigger their symptoms.  This can lead to isolation and other problems, including depression.

Obsessive symptoms include thoughts, feelings, ideas, and sensations that come into your mind over and over again.  Your obsessions may have nothing to do with reality, and although you realize that they are inappropriate, you may have difficulty or be unable to stop them from entering your mind.  The recurrent obsessions may cause you anxiety, distress, or feelings of impending doom.  Obsessions differ from person to person.  Common examples include fears of getting hurt, germs, or harming someone. 

Compulsions are repeated activities or rituals performed in an attempt to control or make the obsessions go away.  Compulsions can include behaviors, such as repeated hand washing, touching items, putting things in order, or perfectly arranging items.  It may include repeated checking, including checking to make sure a coffee pot is off, that the stove is off, or turning a light switch on and off.  Compulsions can include repetitive thought processing, such as praying, counting, or repeating phrases.  Compulsions can also include hoarding activities, including saving excessive amounts of paper scraps, rubber bands, tinfoil, clothes, or other items to such a degree that they disrupt a household.

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A psychiatrist can begin to diagnose OCD by reviewing your medical history, including your symptoms, and conducting evaluations or questionnaires.  You should tell your doctor about your symptoms, how long they last, and when they occur.  Your doctor will ask you questions to help diagnose OCD and rule out other diagnoses.  Your doctor will review all of your information and responses to determine if you meet the specific diagnostic criteria for OCD.

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There is no cure for OCD but there are treatments that provide symptom relief and allow people to live active and full lives.  Treatment for OCD may include cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication, or both.  The goal of cognitive-behavior therapy is to help you learn how to decrease and stop your obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors.  Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are medications that have proven to be very useful in treating OCD.  There are several different types of SSRIs, and you may need to try a few different medications before you find the one that works the best for you.

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

The iHealthSpot patient education library was written collaboratively by the iHealthSpot editorial team which includes Senior Medical Authors Dr. Mary Car-Blanchard, OTD/OTR/L and Valerie K. Clark, and the following editorial advisors: Steve Meadows, MD, Ernie F. Soto, DDS, Ronald J. Glatzer, MD, Jonathan Rosenberg, MD, Christopher M. Nolte, MD, David Applebaum, MD, Jonathan M. Tarrash, MD, and Paula Soto, RN/BSN. This content complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information. The library commenced development on September 1, 2005 with the latest update/addition on April 13th, 2016. For information on iHealthSpot’s other services including medical website design, visit