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