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What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder in which you have thoughts (obsessions) and rituals (compulsions) over and over. They interfere with your life, but you cannot control or stop them.
What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
The cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is unknown. Factors such as genetics, brain biology and chemistry, and your environment may play a role.
Who is at risk for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) usually begins when you are a teen or young adult. Boys often develop OCD at a younger age than girls.
Risk factors for OCD include:
- Family history. People with a first-degree relative (such as a parent, sibling, or child) who has OCD are at higher risk. This is especially true if the relative developed OCD as a child or teen.
- Brain structure and functioning. Imaging studies have shown that people with OCD have differences in certain parts of the brain. Researchers need to do more studies to understand the connection between the brain differences and OCD.
- Childhood trauma, such as child abuse. Some studies have found a link between trauma in childhood and OCD. More research is needed to understand this relationship better.
In some cases, children may develop OCD or OCD symptoms following a streptococcal infection. This is called Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS).
What are the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
People with OCD may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both:
- Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety. They may involve things such as
- Fear of germs or contamination
- Fear of losing or misplacing something
- Worries about harm coming towards yourself or others
- Unwanted forbidden thoughts involving sex or religion
- Aggressive thoughts towards yourself or others
- Needing things lined up exactly or arranged in a particular, precise way
- Compulsions are behaviors that you feel like you need to do over and over to try to reduce your anxiety or stop the obsessive thoughts. Some common compulsions include
- Excessive cleaning and/or handwashing
- Repeatedly checking on things, such as whether the door is locked or the oven is off
- Compulsive counting
- Ordering and arranging things in a particular, precise way
Some people with OCD also have a Tourette syndrome or another tic disorder. Tics are sudden twitches, movements, or sounds that people do repeatedly. People who have tics cannot stop their body from doing these things.
How is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) diagnosed?
The first step is to talk with your health care provider about your symptoms. Your provider should do an exam and ask you about your medical history. He or she needs to make sure that a physical problem is not causing your symptoms. If it seems to be a mental problem, your provider may refer you to a mental health specialist for further evaluation or treatment.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can sometimes be hard to diagnose. Its symptoms are like those of other mental disorders, such as anxiety disorders. It is also possible to have both OCD and another mental disorder.
Not everyone who has obsessions or compulsions has OCD. Your symptoms would usually be considered OCD when you:
- Can't control your thoughts or behaviors, even when you know that they are excessive
- Spend at least 1 hour a day on these thoughts or behaviors
- Don't get pleasure when performing the behaviors. But doing them may briefly give you relief from the anxiety that your thoughts cause.
- Have significant problems in your daily life because of these thoughts or behaviors
What are the treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
The main treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are cognitive behavioral therapy, medicines, or both:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy. It teaches you different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to the obsessions and compulsions. One specific type of CBT that can treat OCD is called Exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP). EX/RP involves gradually exposing you to your fears or obsessions. You learn healthy ways to deal with the anxiety they cause.
- Medicines for OCD include certain types of antidepressants. If those don't work for you, your provider may suggest taking some other type of psychiatric medicine.
NIH: National Institute of Mental Health
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) (National Institute of Mental Health)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: When Unwanted Thoughts or Repetitive Behaviors Take Over (National Institute of Mental Health) Also in Spanish
- When Unwanted Thoughts Intrude: Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- Disorders Related to (And Sometimes Confused with) OCD (International OCD Foundation)
- Hoarding: Issues for the Fire Service (National Fire Protection Association) - PDF
- How to Find the Right Therapist (International OCD Foundation)
- Hoarding disorder (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- Problem That Piles Up: When Hoarding Is a Disorder (National Institutes of Health) Also in Spanish
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder: MedlinePlus Genetics (National Library of Medicine)
Statistics and Research
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) among Adults (National Institute of Mental Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Long durations from symptom onset to diagnosis and from diagnosis to...
- Article: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Following COVID-19 Infection.
- Article: Association of Environmental Uncertainty With Altered Decision-making and Learning Mechanisms in...
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder -- see more articles
Find an Expert
- American Psychiatric Association
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America
- Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- Find a Therapist (Anxiety and Depression Association of America)
- Help for Mental Illnesses (National Institute of Mental Health) Also in Spanish
- National Institute of Mental Health Also in Spanish
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (Nemours Foundation)
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (For Parents) (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) Questions and Answers (National Institute of Mental Health) Also in Spanish
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (Nemours Foundation)