What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

By  , Expert Content
Aug 27, 2012

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Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder. It is a type of anxiety disorder in which the affected person experiences repeated obsessions and/or compulsions that interfere with his or her ability to function socially, occupationally or educationally.

A person with obsessive-compulsive disorder has unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead him or her to do repetitive behaviours (compulsions). Their ability to function normally is affected because of the amount of time consumed by the symptoms, marked fear or other distress suffered by the person.

Experts have classified OCD into four types

  • aggressive, sexual, religious or harm-related obsession with checking compulsions
  • obsessions about symmetry, which leads to arranging or repeating compulsions
  • obsessions of contamination that cause cleaning compulsions
  • symptoms of hoarding

The term obsession can be described as a thought, impulse or image that either recurs or persists and causes severe anxiety. Many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder understand that their obsessions are unreasonable and therefore, try to ignore them or stop them. Doing so leads to more distress and anxiety. In the end, the person does the compulsive act in an effort to ease anxiety and stress.

What causes OCD?

The exact cause of OCD is not understood. Some factors that probably have a role in OCD include family history, chemical imbalances in the brain and stress. According to experts, if you have a relative with OCD, it increases your risk of developing the disorder, however, many people with the OCD have no such family history. Some research suggests that specific chromosome/gene variation possibly increases the likelihood of developing OCD by almost two times. Experts believe that imbalance of a neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain also increases the risk of OCD. Certain stressful events, such as that of being the victim of sexual abuse as a child or child abuse probably increase the risk of suffering from OCD as an adult.

Symptoms of OCD

A person with OCD has signs and symptoms of both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions and compulsions are often related to a specific topic or theme such as:

  • fear of getting infected or becoming dirty
  • putting things in an orderly and symmetrical manner
  • counting
  • checking

Some signs and symptoms of obsessions may include:

  • fear of getting infected by shaking hands, touching or using objects that some other person has touched
  • repeated doubts as to whether you've locked the door, switched off the heater or turned off the stove
  • Undue stress and anxiety when objects aren't kept in a orderly way

Some signs and symptoms of compulsion include:

  • Washing hands until the skin starts to hurt or becomes sore
  • checking doors repeatedly to confirm they're locked or checking the heater repeatedly to make sure it's off
  • arranging objects in the cabinet, such as soaps, canned goods so that all of them face the same way


OCD is a life-long disorder that is not cured. Many patients with OCD may need treatment for a prolonged duration that may even be for the rest of their life. Although treatment may not cure OCD, it can help control symptoms so that they don't interfere with your daily functioning.

Treatment options for obsessive-compulsive disorder include psychotherapy and medications. The commonly used medications for treatment of OCD are antidepressants.

Antidepressants approved for treatment of OCD are:

  • Clomipramine
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Fluoxetine
  • Paroxetine
  • Sertraline



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