OCD is a mental illness involving recurring patterns of intrusive, unwanted thoughts and images plus repetitive behaviors that interfere with daily life and the ability to function socially.

Overview and Facts

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is a chronic mental illness marked by repeated thoughts or urges (obsessions) that cause anxiety; for example, a fear of germs or the need to have one’s possessions arranged in perfect order--and repeated behaviors (compulsions) such as hand washing or checking to make sure the oven is turned off.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

With OCD, symptoms generally last more than an hour a day and are disruptive to daily life. People who suffer from OCD realize their thoughts and actions make no sense, yet they feel powerless to stop them. Symptoms typically begin in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, and include:

  • Repetitive, unwanted thoughts about things like harming or having harmed someone, fear or making inappropriate remarks in public, forbidden sexual impulses, fear of being contaminated (with germs, body fluids, or things in the environment like radiation or household chemicals), and what household items to keep and what to throw out.
  • Repetitive, unwanted actions such as excessive handwashing, toothbrushing, etc.,checking things (i.e., repeatedly checking that you did not make a mistake or that nothing bad happened when you drove to the store), repeating body movements (for example, tapping or touching), rereading or rewriting, or counting while performing a task to end on a “right” or “good” number.
Are there other conditions related to OCD?

Yes, these include hoarding, hair pulling, skin picking, and body dysmorphic disorder (being preoccupied with imagined ugliness).

What causes OCD?

The exact cause is unknown, but likely contributing factors include genetics/heredity, and problems with the function and/or chemistry of certain parts of the brain.

How is OCD Treated?

While OCD cannot be cured, it can be effectively treated--often through a combination of medication and counseling [for example, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and exposure and response therapy (ERT)].