Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Last Edited: April 10th, 2012

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD is an anxiety disorder that can manifest in behaviors, sensations and thoughts that are repetitive and sometimes unrelenting. The severity of the disorder differs between sufferers and can range from disorienting to debilitating. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is typically a chronic illness, but there are treatments that can help a person cope with it and even lessen the symptoms.


There are two primary forms of OCD. The first is obsessive-compulsive disorder and the second is pure obsessive-compulsive disorder. In the former, sufferers will have obsessive thoughts that lead to compulsions. Common compulsions are counting, frequent hand-washing and checking light switches. However, compulsions depend on the sufferer, as they are used to find relief from obsessive thoughts, which can differ greatly from person to person. In pure OCD, obsessive thoughts leading to anxiety are the primary symptoms. It is often said that there are no compulsions with pure OCD, though some say they are there, but that they are subtle or mental.


The symptoms of OCD can appear very diverse because of the actions and behaviors of sufferers. However, the underlying symptoms are always the same. They include:

  • Obsessive, involuntary and distressing thoughts
  • Intrusive obsessive, involuntary and distressing thoughts
  • Compulsive behaviors that relieve the distress of obsessions temporarily
  • Anxiety when unable to perform compulsive tasks
  • Anxiety

The above symptoms are not always all present, but the obsessive, involuntary and distressing thoughts are. These thoughts can range from fear of contracting an illness to thoughts of violence. The distinguishing factor between these thoughts and the thoughts of people without OCD is that they are severely distressing. The sufferer does not want the thoughts and does not enjoy the ideas they represent.

Compulsive behaviors often associated with OCD include:

  • Hand-washing that is so frequent as to cause injury
  • Requiring reassurance
  • Counting
  • Cleaning
  • Organizing


The cause of OCD is not known. Connections have been made between OCD and Tourette syndrome, but those have not been confirmed. OCD may also be linked to head trauma, infection and genetics.


There are several potential treatments for OCD, though the most effective treatment plan will vary from patient to patient. The most common treatments are medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. Doctors may choose to use a combination of the two to provide the most relief for the patient.

Medications include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
  • Anti-anxiety medications

In some cases, electroconvulsive therapy or surgery has been used. However, these treatments are far less common than CBT and medication. They are also strictly considered a last resort option by most professionals.