Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). People with OCD feel they cannot control these obsessions and compulsions. Repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, counting, hoarding,
checking, or cleaning, are often performed in the hopes of reducing anxiety or anxiety-provoking obsessions. Performing these so-called rituals, however, provides only temporary relief. Left untreated, the obsessions and compulsions can take over a person's life. OCD is often a chronic, relapsing illness.
The cause of OCD is not known. It is believed to develop from genetic, biologic, environmental, and psychological factors.
OCD may be associated with other disorders, including: Tourette syndrome
—characterized by multiple motor and vocal tics
Trichotillomania—the repeated urge to pull out scalp hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, or other body hairBody dysmorphic disorder—imaginary or exaggerated defects in appearance
Eating disorders—such as
—morbid concern for one's own health, including delusions that one is suffering from a disease or diseases for which no physical basis is evident
Additional disorders that may accompany OCD include
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
, and other anxiety disorders.
According to the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation, one in 50 Americans has OCD during the course of a given year. The first symptoms of OCD often begin during childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood.
Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine
. 15th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2001.
Stern, TA et al.
Massachusetts General Hospital Comprehensive Clinical Psychiatry
. 1st ed. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier, 2008.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
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