Facts About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a disorder characterized by overwhelming, obsessive thoughts and compulsions. These obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors can have a significant impact on your life but can be helped through a number of medical interventions. 

Whether you are living with OCD or supporting someone with the condition, here are 10 facts about OCD you should know:

1. OCD Can Cause Significant Anxiety

If you have OCD, you may experience severe anxiety as a result of obsessive thoughts. Oftentimes, rituals or compulsions are used to reduce the anxiety caused by obsessions. These behaviors include:

  • Repeatedly checking to make sure doors are locked.
  • Counting objects, letters, or words.
  • Rearranging objects to ensure a specific order or symmetry.
  • Doing things in multiples, such as turning the lights on and off five times because five is a "good" number.

OCD is characterized by obsessions and compulsions, but the ways in which OCD symptoms manifest vary from person to person. If you have OCD, you may also have a tic disorder and experience repeated motor movements like blinking or facial tics. There are several subtypes of OCD, including an obsession with cleanliness, an obsession with symmetry and order, and hoarding.

2. Many People With OCD Have Insight Into Their Symptoms

If you have OCD, you may recognize the irrationality or excessiveness of your obsessions or compulsions. This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the disorder.

3. OCD Affects All Types of People

About 2.3 percent of people will suffer from OCD at some point during their lifetime. There is no difference in the rate of OCD among men and women, and people of all cultures and ethnicity are affected, but there are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing this disorder, including:

  • Age: You are most at risk for developing OCD during late adolescence. Once you reach early adulthood, the risk of developing OCD drops.
  • Gender: Males and females are equally likely to develop OCD following puberty, but males are more likely to develop OCD during childhood.
  • Genetics: Having family members with OCD significantly increases your risk. The closer that person is to your immediate family, the greater the risk, especially if their OCD began as a child or teenager.
  • Traumatic life events: Stressful, traumatic events, such as sexual abuse or the death of a loved one, increase your risk.
  • Brain structure: Although research isn't entirely clear, it is believed that there is a relationship between OCD symptoms and irregularities in the brain.

4. Symptoms of OCD Usually Start in Adolescence and Early Adulthood

However, children as young as 4 can be affected. Although rare, OCD can also begin in late adulthood. Typically, most people are diagnosed at age 19. 

5. A Single OCD Gene Has Not Been Identified

Developing OCD is the result of a complex interaction between life experience and genetic risk factors. While no single gene has been identified, researchers know there is a genetic link from studies of twins, which showed when one twin has OCD the other is more likely to develop the condition.

6. OCD Can’t Be Diagnosed Using a Blood Test or X-Ray

If you think you have OCD, you will need to see a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, to get a diagnosis. The symptoms of OCD resemble other illnesses, so it is important to seek professional help. 

7. Effective Treatments Are Available

These include medications such as Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Anafranil (clomipramine), and Luvox (fluvoxamine), which affect serotonin levels, as well as psychotherapies including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Medication and psychotherapy can be equally effective. Researchers are also looking into other therapies such as deep brain stimulation (DBS) for those with treatment-resistant OCD. 

8. Stress Can Bring About or Make OCD Symptoms Worse

Keeping your stress levels in check will go a long way toward reducing the severity and frequency of your symptoms.

9. OCD Is a Chronic Mental Illness

Your focus should be on the day-to-day management of your symptoms, rather than curing yourself of the condition.

10. It Is Possible to Live a Full and Productive Life With OCD

With good coping mechanisms and treatments in place, you can live a happy and productive life.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Williams M, Mugno B, Franklin M, Faber S. Symptom dimensions in obsessive-compulsive disorder: phenomenology and treatment outcomes with exposure and ritual prevention. Psychopathology. 2013;46(6):365-76. doi:10.1159%2F000348582

  2. American Psychiatric Association. What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

  3. National Institute of Mental Health. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

  4. International OCD Foundation. Medications for OCD.

  5. Adams TG, Kelmendi B, Brake CA, Gruner P, Badour CL, Pittenger C. The role of stress in the pathogenesis and maintenance of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Chronic Stress (Thousand Oaks). 2018;2. doi:10.1177/2470547018758043

Additional Reading

By Owen Kelly, PhD
Owen Kelly, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, professor, and author in Ontario, ON, who specializes in anxiety and mood disorders.