What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, checking on things or cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions.
Many people without OCD have distressing thoughts or repetitive behaviors. However, these thoughts and behaviors do not typically disrupt daily life. For people with OCD, thoughts are persistent, and behaviors are rigid. Not performing the behaviors commonly causes great distress. Many people with OCD know or suspect their obsessions are not realistic; others may think they could be true (known as limited insight). Even if they know their obsessions are not realistic, people with OCD have difficulty disengaging from the obsessive thoughts or stopping the compulsive actions.
Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that cause distressing emotions such as anxiety or disgust. Many people with OCD recognize that the thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of their mind and are excessive or unreasonable. However, the distress caused by these intrusive thoughts cannot be resolved by logic or reasoning. Most people with OCD try to ease the distress of the obsessions with compulsions, ignore or suppress the obsessions, or distract themselves with other activities.
- Fear of getting contaminated by people or the environment
- Disturbing sexual thoughts or images
- Fear of blurting out obscenities or insults
- Extreme concern with order, symmetry, or precision
- Recurrent intrusive thoughts of sounds, images, words, or numbers
- Fear of losing or discarding something important
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. The behaviors typically prevent or reduce a person’s distress related to an obsession. Compulsions may be excessive responses that are directly relate to an obsession (such as excessive hand washing due to the fear of contamination) or actions that are completely unrelated to the obsession. In the most severe cases, a constant repetition of rituals may fill the day, making a normal routine impossible.
- Excessive or ritualized hand washing, showering, brushing teeth, or toileting
- Repeated cleaning of household objects
- Ordering or arranging things in a particular way
- Repeatedly checking locks, switches, or appliances
- Constantly seeking approval or reassurance
- Repeated counting to a certain number