Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform. If you have OCD, you probably recognize that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are irrational – but even so, you feel unable to resist them and break free.
Like a needle getting stuck on an old record, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may check the stove twenty times to make sure it’s really turned off, wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw, or drive around for hours to make sure that the bump you heard while driving wasn’t a person you ran over.
Obsessions are involuntary, seemingly uncontrollable thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again in your mind. You don’t want to have these ideas but you can’t stop them. Unfortunately, these obsessive thoughts are often disturbing and distracting.
Compulsions are behaviors or rituals that you feel driven to act out again and again. Usually, compulsions are performed in an attempt to make obsessions go away. For example, if you’re afraid of contamination, you might develop elaborate cleaning rituals. However, the relief never lasts. In fact, the obsessive thoughts usually come back stronger. And the compulsive behaviors often end up causing anxiety themselves as they become more demanding and time-consuming.
Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) fall into one of the following categories:
Just because you have obsessive thoughts or perform compulsive behaviors does NOT mean that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. With OCD, these thoughts and behaviors cause tremendous distress, take up a lot of time, and interfere with your daily life and relationships.
Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have both obsessions and compulsions, but some people experience just one or the other.
Common obsessive thoughts in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:
Common compulsive behaviors in obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:
Hoarding and other disorders
The compulsive behavior of hoarding—collecting and keeping things with little or no use or value—is a common symptom of people with OCD, even if the problem may not be severe. However, people with hoarding symptoms are more likely to also be suffering from other disorders, such as depression, PTSD, a specific phobia, skin picking, kleptomania, ADHD, tic disorders, or compulsive buying.
If you or a loved one has OCD, tell your doctor about any symptoms of hoarding, difficulty discarding junk, or obsessing about losing things.
Source: Journal of Psychiatric Research
While the onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder usually occurs during adolescence or young adulthood, younger children sometimes have symptoms that look like OCD. However, the symptoms of other disorders, such as ADD, autism, and Tourette’s syndrome, can also look like obsessive-compulsive disorder, so a thorough medical and psychological exam is essential before any diagnosis is made.