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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that involves experiencing recurring thoughts (obsessions) that may then lead to repetitive behaviors (compulsions). An estimated 2.3% of U.S. adults experience OCD at some point in their lives and the condition tends to be more common in women than in men.

These obsessions and compulsions can take up a great deal of time, interfere with a person's ability to function in their daily life, and create significant distress. While the exact causes are not known, genetic, biological, and stress-related factors may play a role. Effective treatments are available and include medications and psychotherapy techniques such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes OCD?

    The exact causes of OCD are not completely understood, but a combination of factors likely play a role. Research suggests that increased activity in certain areas of the brain is linked to a higher risk for OCD. Environmental factors including sudden life changes, relationship troubles, abuse, illness, and stress may also contribute to the onset of the condition.

  • How is OCD treated?

    OCD is typically treated with medication and psychotherapy. Psychotherapy may focus on changing the underlying thoughts that contribute to the disorder (through cognitive behavioral therapy), or exposing people to things they fear in order to gradually reduce the response (through exposure and response prevention therapy).

  • Is OCD genetic?

    Research suggests that genetics may cause people to have a predisposition to OCD, but that does not mean that there is an "OCD gene." Instead, certain groups of genes may increase vulnerability. While a person might have a genetic predisposition to OCD, it is the interaction of these genes and environmental variables that likely triggers the onset of the condition.

  • Is OCD considered an anxiety disorder?

    OCD shares similarities with some anxiety disorders, but there are important distinctions between the types of disorders. In the earlier version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), OCD was classed with anxiety disorders. In the 2013 publication of the DSM-5, OCD was separated into its own unique category called "Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders."

  • What are the types of OCD?

    While the DSM-5 does not list specific subtypes, research suggests that OCD can present in a few different forms that are distinguished by the type of symptoms involved. Common types of OCD include those that are centered on hoarding, ordering/symmetry, contamination/cleaning, checking, and obsessive thoughts without compulsions.

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Page Sources
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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). November 2017.