Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - Topic Overview
What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of mental illness that
causes repeated unwanted thoughts. To get rid of the thoughts, a person does
the same tasks over and over. For example, you may fear that everything you
touch has germs on it. So to ease that fear, you wash your hands over and over
OCD is a chronic, or long-term, illness that can take over
your life, hurt your relationships, and limit your ability to work or go to
What causes OCD?
Experts don't know the exact
cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Research suggests that there may be a
problem with the way one part of the brain sends information to another part.
Not having enough of a brain chemical called serotonin may help cause the
Some experts believe that a
problem related to infections, such as
strep throat or
scarlet fever, can suddenly bring on the disorder or
make its symptoms worse in some children.
What are the symptoms?
obsessive-compulsive disorder tend to come and go over time and range from mild
Anxiety is the most common symptom. For example, you
may have an overall sense that something terrible will happen if you don't do a
certain task, such as check again and again to see whether the stove is on. If
you fail to check, you may suddenly feel tense or anxious or have a nagging
sense that you left something undone.
Symptoms of the disorder
Obsessions. These are
unwanted thoughts, ideas, and impulses that you have again and again. They
won't go away. They get in the way of your normal thoughts and cause anxiety or
fear. The thoughts may be sexual or violent, or they may make you worry about
illness or infection. Examples include:
- A fear of harm to yourself or a loved
- A driving need to do things perfectly or
- A fear of getting dirty or infected.
Compulsions. These are
behaviors that you repeat to try to control the obsessions. Some people have
behaviors that are rigid and structured, while others have very complex
behaviors that change. Examples include:
- Washing, or checking that something has
- Counting, often while doing another compulsive action,
such as hand-washing.
- Repeating things or always moving items to
keep them in perfect order.
The obsessions or compulsions usually take up a lot of
time-more than 1 hour a day. They greatly interfere with your normal routine at
work or school, and they affect social activities and relationships.
Sometimes people may understand that their obsessions and compulsions
are not real. But at other times they may not be sure, or they may believe
strongly in their fears.
How is OCD diagnosed?