Slideshows Images Quizzes
font size

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) (cont.)

Medical Author:
Medical Editor:

What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and what are OCD symptoms and signs?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is one of a number of obsessive compulsive and related disorders that is characterized by repeated obsessions and/or compulsions that interfere with the sufferer's ability to function in their relationships, at work or in school, either because of all the time that is consumed by the symptoms or the marked apprehension, fear or other distress suffered by the person. Other separate kinds of obsessive compulsive and related disorders include body dysmorphic disorder (preoccupation with at least one perceived flaw in one's physical appearance that others do not observe); hoarding disorder (chronic difficulty discarding possessions); trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder); excoriation disorder (skin picking), as well as OCD and related disorders that are caused by a medical condition or exposure to a substance.

An obsession is a recurrent or unrelenting idea, impulse, or image that may cause severe anxiety. These ideas are irresistible to the OCD sufferer despite the person's usually understanding that these ideas are irrational. That understanding may lead to their feeling guilt at being unable to resist having the ideas. Examples of obsessions include sexual obsessions, fear of germs/worries about cleanliness, or worries about safety or order. A compulsion is a ritualistic or otherwise repetitive behavior that the individual with OCD engages in, either because of their obsessions or according to rigid rules. Obsessions may cause compulsions like excessive hand washing, skin picking, lock checking, repeatedly going over thoughts, meaningless repetition of one's own words, repeatedly arranging items, or other repetitive actions. Compulsive hoarding is also thought to be a manifestation of OCD.

In contrast to the repetitive behaviors of compulsions, habits are actions that occur with little to no thought, occur routinely, are not caused by an obsession, are not excessively time-consuming, and do not result in stress. Examples of habits include cracking knuckles or storing a wallet in a purse or pocket.

OCD has been described in medicinal writings for at least the past century. Statistics on how many people in the United States have OCD range from 1%-2%, or more than 2 million adults. About one in 200 children and adolescents, or half a million minors, have been found to have OCD. Interestingly, how often this condition occurs and the symptoms involved are remarkably similar across cultures. While it often starts in childhood and adolescence, the average age of onset of the disorder is 19 years of age. OCD usually develops by 30 years of age, afflicting more males than females.

Children with OCD do not always realize that their obsessions or compulsions are unreasonable. They might have tantrums when prevented from completing rituals. Also in contrast to adults, children and teenagers tend to develop physical complaints like tiredness, headaches, and stomach upset when afflicted with OCD.

People with OCD are at risk for also developing chronic hair pulling (trichotillomania), muscle or vocal tics (Tourette disorder), or an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. OCD sufferers are also more likely to develop other mood problems, like depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic attacks, and full-blown panic disorder. This illness also increases the risk of sufferers having excessive concerns about their bodies (somatoform disorders) like hypochondriasis, which is excessive worry about having a serious illness. People with OCD are more vulnerable to having bipolar disorder, also called manic depression.

While it is sometimes confused with OCD, obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is characterized by perfectionism and an unyielding expectation that the sufferer and others will adhere to a rigid set of rules. People with OCPD do not tend to engage in compulsions. However, people with OCD are at higher risk for developing OCPD than those without OCD.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/11/2016


Emotional Wellness

Get tips on therapy and treatment.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Related Articles
Use Pill Finder Find it Now See Interactions

Pill Identifier on RxList

  • quick, easy,
    pill identification

Find a Local Pharmacy

  • including 24 hour, pharmacies

Interaction Checker

  • Check potential drug interactions
Search the Medical Dictionary for Health Definitions & Medical Abbreviations

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors