Anxiety (Panic Disorders, Phobias)
Medical Care
Mental & Emotional Health

When Unwanted Thoughts Take Over: Recognizing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Do you feel the need to check and re-check things over and over? Do you have the same thoughts constantly? Do you feel a very strong need to perform certain rituals repeatedly and feel like you have no control over what you are doing? If so, you may have a type of anxiety disorder called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Here, from the experts at the National Institute of Mental Health, is what you should know about OCD:

What is OCD?

Everyone double checks things sometimes. For example, you might double check to make sure the stove or iron is turned off before leaving the house. But people with OCD feel the need to check things repeatedly, or have certain thoughts or perform routines and rituals over and over. The thoughts and rituals associated with OCD cause distress and get in the way of daily life.

The frequent upsetting thoughts are called obsessions. To try to control them, a person will feel an overwhelming urge to repeat certain rituals or behaviors called compulsions. People with OCD can’t control these obsessions and compulsions.

For many people, OCD starts during childhood or the teen years. Most people are diagnosed by about age 19. Symptoms of OCD may come and go and be better or worse at different times.

What causes OCD?

OCD sometimes runs in families, but no one knows for sure why some people have it, while others don’t. Researchers have found that several parts of the brain are involved in obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior, as well as fears and anxiety associated with them. By learning more about fear and anxiety in the brain, scientists may be able to create better treatments. Researchers are also looking for ways in which stress and environmental factors may play a role.

What are the signs and symptoms of OCD?

People with OCD generally:

Have repeated thoughts or images about many different things, such as fear of germs, dirt, or intruders; acts of violence; hurting loved ones; sexual acts; conflicts with religious beliefs; or being overly tidy

Do the same rituals over and over such as washing hands, locking and unlocking doors, counting, keeping unneeded items, or repeating the same steps again and again

Can’t control the unwanted thoughts and behaviors

Don’t get pleasure when performing the behaviors or rituals, but get brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause

Spend at least 1 hour a day on the thoughts and rituals, which cause distress and get in the way of daily life.

How is OCD treated?

First, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Your doctor should do an exam to make sure that another physical problem isn’t causing the symptoms. The doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist.

OCD is generally treated with psychotherapy, medication, or both.


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