Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by overwhelming urges to participate in repetitive, ritualistic behaviors. These behaviors are often accompanied by intrusive thoughts typically focused on cleanliness or safety. For people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, these thoughts and rituals are extreme enough to interrupt daily life and responsibilities. According to the International OCD Foundation, roughly one in every 100 adults in the United States suffers from the condition. This translates to about two to three million people. Obsessive-compulsive disorder also affects approximately one in 200 children and teens. According to the National Institutes of Health, intrusive, upsetting thoughts are called obsessions. In an attempt to control these thoughts, people with OCD repeat specific rituals called compulsions. For example, to control the unpleasant thought of a home intruder, a person with OCD may repeatedly check the locks on their door. New research suggests that new mothers are particularly susceptible to obsessive-compulsive disorder.


The cause of OCD remains unclear. According to the International OCD Foundation, serotonin may be at play. More specifically, it appears as though people with the disorder show deficits when it comes to communicating between the front part of the brain and deeper structures. However, nothing conclusive has been uncovered at this point. Many experts speculate that OCD is hereditary. Research suggests that since the condition appears to run in families, it stands to reason that genetics may be at play. According to the National Institutes of Health, focusing on the parts of the brain involved with fear and anxiety might shed light on what causes the disorder.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder comes with its own unique set of symptoms, the National Institute of Mental Health identifies some universally recognized signs.
  • Frequent, repeated thoughts revolving around cleanliness, violence, sexual acts or many other topics
  • An inability to control these intrusive thoughts
  • Regular participation in certain rituals such as hand washing, locking doors, counting things, cleaning, etc.
  • An inability to carry out regular daily activities because of obsessive thoughts and compulsions Obsessive-compulsive disorder may show symptoms during childhood, but is most commonly diagnosed around age 19.


Treating OCD often involves psychotherapy, and/or medication. According to the International OCD Foundation, roughly 70 percent of people with OCD will benefit from these approaches. Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy commonly used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. CBT encourages people to observe their thoughts and recognize negative thought patterns. The approach teaches strategies to help patients deal with intrusive thoughts without participating in compulsive rituals. Obsessive-compulsive disorder may also be treated with another form of psychotherapy called exposure and response prevention (ERP). ERP involves confronting anxiety-inducing thoughts and images and choosing not to participate in ritualistic behavior. Not giving into compulsions is at the core of this approach. Medications: Certain antidepressant drugs can be an effective treatment options for obsessive-compulsive disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, antidepressants take anywhere from three to 12 weeks to take effect. While most people handle these medications with few issues, some may experience difficulty sleeping, headache or nausea. In extreme cases, some antidepressants have been associated with suicidal thoughts. People with OCD may benefit from psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both.

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