Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder characterized by persistent, intrusive, and unwanted thoughts, ideas, images, or impulses (known as obsessions) that cause distress and anxiety. People with OCD may also experience compulsions—repetitive behaviors or mental acts that they feel compelled to perform in order to reduce the distress caused by the obsessions. These compulsions are often done in an attempt to prevent or reduce anxiety-provoking situations. Common obsessions in OCD can include fear of contamination, fear of harm, fear of being responsible for something terrible happening, fear of making mistakes, and needing to have things in a particular order. Common compulsions can include hand washing, counting, ordering and arranging, checking, and cleaning. These compulsions are often time-consuming and interfere with daily life, causing considerable difficulty in all areas of functioning, including relationships, work, and social life. People with OCD typically experience significant distress related to their symptoms, and may also experience depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and functional impairments. The disorder can be disabling and can significantly interfere with a person’s ability to function in daily life.

A woman with OCD is washing her hands with soap.

According to the International OCD Foundation, about 1-2% of the US population has OCD. OCD can develop at any age, but it most commonly develops in late adolescence or early adulthood. OCD affects men and women equally. OCD is often associated with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and tic disorders (e.g., Tourette’s syndrome).OCD can significantly impact a person’s daily life, including their work, school, and social relationships. People with OCD may spend several hours a day performing compulsions or ruminating about their obsessions, which can interfere with their ability to function and complete daily tasks.

OCD is a treatable condition, and evidence-based treatments include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. Psychiatric treatment for OCD typically includes a combination of medications and psychotherapy. Medications commonly used to treat OCD include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), antipsychotics, and antianxiety drugs. SSRIs work by increasing the availability of serotonin in the brain, which helps to reduce anxiety and obsessive thoughts. Antipsychotics can help to reduce the intensity of intrusive thoughts. Antianxiety drugs may be used to reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety that often accompany OCD. Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP), can be used to help people with OCD change their thinking and behavior. CBT helps to identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and beliefs, while ERP involves gradually exposing oneself to the source of their anxiety and learning to resist the urge to engage in compulsive behaviors.

A woman with OCD sitting in a chair and talking to a therapist.

According to the International OCD Foundation, about 1-2% of the US population has OCD. OCD can develop at any age, but it most commonly develops in late adolescence or early adulthood. OCD affects men and women equally. OCD is often associated with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and tic disorders (e.g., Tourette’s syndrome).OCD can significantly impact a person’s daily life, including their work, school, and social relationships. People with OCD may spend several hours a day performing compulsions or ruminating about their obsessions, which can interfere with their ability to function and complete daily tasks.

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