What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

By | October 10, 2022

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental ailment marked by a persistent, chronic anxiety state. It holds individual’s captive in an endless loop of repetitive obsessions and compulsions:

Obsessions associated with OCD: People who have OCD experience distressing and recurrent cravings or worries. Extreme anxiety is brought on by these obsessive thoughts.

OCD compulsions: People with OCD use certain habits, rituals, or routines to manage their obsessions and anxiety. They keep doing it. They don’t enjoy and don’t want to engage in these compulsive activities.

What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder?

OCD is not fully understood by scientists. A person may be more likely to acquire OCD or experience an episode if certain conditions or circumstances exist:

  • Illness (if you get the flu, for example, you may start a cycle of obsessing about germs and washing compulsively).
  • Low amounts of serotonin, a brain chemical that helps keep people mentally balanced.
  • Overactivity in some brain regions.
  • Issues in school or work.
  • Issues in a significant connection.

How is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) diagnosed?

There’s no test for OCD. A healthcare provider makes the diagnosis after asking you about your symptoms. The provider uses criteria explained in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V).

People often use the phrases “obsessing,” “obsessed” and “OCD” very casually in everyday conversations. But OCD, according to the DSM-V, is diagnosed based on specific factors:

  • The person has obsessions, compulsions or both.
  • The obsessions or compulsions take up a lot of time (more than an hour per day).
  • The obsessions or compulsions cause distress or affect participation in social activities, work responsibilities or other life events.
  • The symptoms aren’t caused by drugs, alcohol, medications or another medical problem.


What treatments are available for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

If you have symptoms of OCD that interfere with your daily life, you should talk to a healthcare provider. A professional who is specially trained in mental illness can offer several strategies:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of psychotherapy. You will talk to a therapist, who will help you examine and understand your thoughts and emotions. Over several sessions, CBT can help you stop negative habits, perhaps replacing them with healthier ways to cope.
  • Medications: Drugs called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs), selective SRIs (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants may help. They increase levels of serotonin. Examples include clomipramine, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, paroxetine, and sertraline.
  • Exposure and response prevention (EX/RP): With this therapy, you do the thing that causes anxiety. The healthcare provider then prevents you from responding with a compulsion. For example, the provider may ask you to touch dirty objects but then stop you from washing your hands.

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