Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition in which you have frequent unwanted thoughts that cause you to perform repetitive behaviors. Treatment for OCD usually involves psychotherapy and medication. The sooner OCD is diagnosed and treated, the better the outlook.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition in which you have frequent unwanted thoughts and sensations (obsessions) that cause you to perform repetitive behaviors (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors can significantly interfere with social interactions and performing daily tasks.
OCD is usually a life-long (chronic) condition, but symptoms can come and go over time.
Everyone experiences obsessions and compulsions at some point. For example, it’s common to occasionally double-check the stove or the locks. People also often use the phrases “obsessing” and “obsessed” very casually in everyday conversations. But OCD is more extreme. It can take up hours of a person’s day. It gets in the way of normal life and activities. Obsessions in OCD are unwanted, and people with OCD don’t enjoy performing compulsive behaviors.
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Even though they sound similar, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) are different conditions.
OCPD is a personality disorder that causes an extensive preoccupation with perfectionism, organization and control.
People with OCD are usually aware that their obsessions and compulsions are problematic and accept that they need professional help to treat the condition. People with OCPD usually don’t think there’s anything wrong with their behavior and beliefs.
OCD can affect anyone. The average age of onset is 19 years. About 50% of people with OCD begin to have symptoms in childhood and adolescence.
It’s rare for someone to develop OCD after the age of 40.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is relatively common. It affects 1.6% to 2.3% of the general U.S. population.
The main symptoms of OCD are obsessions and compulsions that interfere with normal activities. For example, symptoms may often prevent you from getting to work on time. Or you may have trouble getting ready for bed in a reasonable amount of time.
You may know that these symptoms are problematic, but you can’t stop them. Symptoms of OCD may come and go, ease over time or worsen over time.
If you or your child have symptoms of OCD that interfere with your/their daily life, you should talk to a healthcare provider.
In OCD, obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts or mental images that cause intense anxiety. People with OCD can’t control these thoughts. Most people with OCD realize that these thoughts are illogical or irrational.
Common examples include:
In OCD, compulsions are repetitive actions that you feel like you have to do to ease or get rid of the obsessions.
People with OCD don’t want to perform these compulsive behaviors and don’t get pleasure from them. But they feel like they have to perform them or their anxiety will get worse. Compulsions only help temporarily, though. The obsessions soon come back, triggering a return to the compulsions.
Compulsions are time-consuming and get in the way of important activities that you value. They don’t have to match the content of your obsessions.
Compulsions can also include avoiding situations that trigger obsessions. One example is refusing to shake hands or touch objects that other people touch a lot, like doorknobs.
Researchers don’t know what exactly causes OCD. But they think several factors contribute to its development, including:
There’s no test for OCD. A healthcare provider makes the diagnosis after asking you about your symptoms and medical and mental health history. Providers use criteria explained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V) to diagnose OCD.
The criteria include:
The most common treatment plan for OCD involves psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medication.
If this treatment doesn’t help your OCD symptoms and your symptoms are severe, your provider may recommend transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is a term for a variety of treatment techniques that aim to help you identify and change unhealthy emotions, thoughts and behaviors. You work with a mental health professional, such as a psychologist.
There are several types of psychotherapy. The most common and effective forms for treating OCD include:
Mindfulness techniques such as meditation and relaxation can also help with symptoms.
Medications called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), selective SRIs (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants may help treat OCD.
Healthcare providers most often recommend SSRIs for OCD and prescribe them at much higher doses than they do for anxiety or depression. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved SSRIs include:
It may take up to eight to 12 weeks for these medications to start working.
You can’t prevent OCD. But early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce its symptoms and its effects on your life.
The prognosis (outlook) of OCD can vary. OCD is often a lifelong condition that can wax and wane.
People with OCD who receive appropriate treatment often experience increased quality of life and improved social, school and/or work functioning.
If you don’t receive treatment, the cycle of obsessions and compulsions is more difficult to break and treat, as structural changes in your brain take place. Because of this, it’s key to seek medical care as soon as possible if you or your child experience symptoms.
Aside from seeking medical treatment for OCD, practicing self-care can help manage your symptoms. Examples include:
If you or your child have received an obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis, you’ll likely need to see your healthcare provider and/or mental health professional regularly to make sure your treatment is working.
If you’re taking medication for OCD and notice any unpleasant side effects, talk to your healthcare provider.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It’s important to remember that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition. As with all mental health conditions, seeking help as soon as symptoms appear can help decrease the disruptions to your life. Healthcare providers and mental health professionals can offer treatment plans that can help you manage your obsessions and compulsions.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/14/2022.
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