Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) include:

• Persistent, upsetting thoughts (obsessions)
• Using rituals (compulsions) to control the anxiety these thoughts produce

It is common for these rituals to end up controlling those performing them.

Some ritual examples include:

• People obsessed with germs or dirt, may wash their hands over and over again
• People who develop an obsession with intruders may lock and relock their doors many times before going to bed, or may change the locks repeatedly
• People afraid of social embarrassment may comb their hair excessively in front of a mirror, or even get caught standing in front of the mirror unable to move away from it

People who perform such rituals do so without pleasure. The most gained is temporary relief from the anxiety created by the obsessive thoughts.

Other common rituals include:

• Checking things repeatedly or touching things repeatedly, especially in a particular sequence
• Counting things
• Frequent thoughts of violence and harming loved ones
• Persistently thinking about performing sexual acts the person dislikes
• Having thoughts that are prohibited by religious beliefs
• Being preoccupied with order and symmetry
• Having difficulty throwing things out, accumulating items and/or hoarding unneeded items

Healthy people also have rituals. They might check the stove to see if it is off several times before leaving the house. The difference in healthy and unhealthy rituals is that people with OCD perform their rituals even though doing so interferes with daily life and they find the repetition distressing.

Some adults may recognize that their rituals are senseless; however, some adults and most children may not realize that their behavior is out of the ordinary.

Approximately 2.2 million American adults are affected by OCD. The problem can be accompanied by eating disorders, other anxiety disorders or depression. It usually appears in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder affects men and women in about equal numbers. Research indicates it may run in families.

The symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder may come and go, ease over time, or get worse. In the most severe cases, this disorder can keep a person from working or carrying out normal responsibilities at home. People with OCD may:

• Try to help themselves by avoiding situations that trigger their obsessions
• May use alcohol or drugs to calm themselves


Treatment usually consists of medications and/or exposure-based psychotherapy. Exposure-based psychotherapy is where people face situations that cause fear or anxiety to become less sensitive to those situations. There is on-going research for new treatments for people who do not respond well to the usual therapies. Some of these approaches include:

• Combination and augmentation (add-on) treatments
• Modern techniques like deep brain stimulation

Source: National Institute of Mental Health

Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. All health concerns should be addressed by a qualified health care professional.

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© 2007 Connie Limon All Rights Reserved

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