OCD features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions), leading to repetitive behaviors (compulsions) that interfere with daily activities.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.
You may try to ignore or stop your obsessions, but that only increases your distress and anxiety. Ultimately, you feel driven to perform compulsive acts to try to ease your stress. Despite efforts to ignore or get rid of bothersome thoughts or urges, they keep coming back. This leads to more ritualistic behavior — the vicious cycle of OCD.
OCD often centers around certain themes — for example, an excessive fear of getting contaminated by germs. To ease your contamination fears, you may compulsively wash your hands until they're sore and chapped.
If you have OCD, you may be ashamed and embarrassed about the condition, but treatment can be effective.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder usually includes both obsessions and compulsions. But it's also possible to have only obsession symptoms or only compulsion symptoms. You may or may not realize that your obsessions and compulsions are excessive or unreasonable, but they take up a great deal of time and interfere with your daily routine and social, school or work functioning.
OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent and unwanted thoughts, urges or images that are intrusive and cause distress or anxiety. You might try to ignore them or get rid of them by performing a compulsive behavior or ritual. These obsessions typically intrude when you're trying to think of or do other things.
Obsessions often have themes to them, such as:
Examples of obsession signs and symptoms include:
OCD compulsions are repetitive behaviors that you feel driven to perform. These repetitive behaviors or mental acts are meant to reduce anxiety related to your obsessions or prevent something bad from happening. However, engaging in the compulsions brings no pleasure and may offer only a temporary relief from anxiety.
You may make up rules or rituals to follow that help control your anxiety when you're having obsessive thoughts. These compulsions are excessive and often are not realistically related to the problem they're intended to fix.
As with obsessions, compulsions typically have themes, such as:
Examples of compulsion signs and symptoms include:
OCD usually begins in the teen or young adult years, but it can start in childhood. Symptoms usually begin gradually and tend to vary in severity throughout life. The types of obsessions and compulsions you experience can also change over time. Symptoms generally worsen when you experience greater stress. OCD, usually considered a lifelong disorder, can have mild to moderate symptoms or be so severe and time-consuming that it becomes disabling.
There's a difference between being a perfectionist — someone who requires flawless results or performance, for example — and having OCD. OCD thoughts aren't simply excessive worries about real problems in your life or liking to have things clean or arranged in a specific way.
If your obsessions and compulsions are affecting your quality of life, see your doctor or mental health professional.
The cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder isn't fully understood. Main theories include:
Factors that may increase the risk of developing or triggering obsessive-compulsive disorder include:
Problems resulting from obsessive-compulsive disorder may include, among others:
There's no sure way to prevent obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, getting treatment as soon as possible may help prevent OCD from worsening and disrupting activities and your daily routine.
Steps to help diagnose obsessive-compulsive disorder may include:
It's sometimes difficult to diagnose OCD because symptoms can be similar to those of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, schizophrenia or other mental health disorders. And it's possible to have both OCD and another mental health disorder. Work with your doctor so that you can get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment may not result in a cure, but it can help bring symptoms under control so that they don't rule your daily life. Depending on the severity of OCD, some people may need long-term, ongoing or more intensive treatment.
The two main treatments for OCD are psychotherapy and medications. Often, treatment is most effective with a combination of these.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy, is effective for many people with OCD. Exposure and response prevention (ERP), a component of CBT therapy, involves gradually exposing you to a feared object or obsession, such as dirt, and having you learn ways to resist the urge to do your compulsive rituals. ERP takes effort and practice, but you may enjoy a better quality of life once you learn to manage your obsessions and compulsions.
Certain psychiatric medications can help control the obsessions and compulsions of OCD. Most commonly, antidepressants are tried first.
Antidepressants approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat OCD include:
However, your doctor may prescribe other antidepressants and psychiatric medications.
Here are some issues to discuss with your doctor about medications for OCD:
Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of using specific medications.
Sometimes, psychotherapy and medications aren't effective enough to control OCD symptoms. In treatment-resistant cases, other options may be offered:
Talk with your doctor to make sure you understand all the pros and cons and possible health risks of DBS and TMS if you're considering one of these procedures.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic condition, which means it may always be part of your life. While OCD warrants treatment by a professional, you can do some things for yourself to build on your treatment plan:
Coping with obsessive-compulsive disorder can be challenging. Medications can have unwanted side effects, and you may feel embarrassed or angry about having a condition that requires long-term treatment. Here are some ways to help cope with OCD:
You may start by seeing your primary doctor. Because obsessive-compulsive disorder often requires specialized care, you may be referred to a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, for evaluation and treatment.
To prepare for your appointment, think about your needs and goals for treatment. Make a list of:
Questions to ask might include:
Don't hesitate to ask any other questions during your appointment.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
Your doctor or mental health professional will ask additional questions based on your responses, symptoms and needs. Preparing and anticipating questions will help you make the most of your appointment time.