Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness. It consists of unwanted, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions).
The person with OCD does not feel able to control this. It can disrupt daily functions.
The exact cause of OCD is not known. The nervous system, environment, and genes may play a role.
The genes that you inherit from your family may play a role in the development of OCD.
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Things that may raise the risk of OCD are:
- A history of abuse or neglect
- Stressful events
- Pregnancy—and right after birth
Symptoms of OCD may be:
Obsessions—repeated and unwanted ideas, images, or urges, such as:
- Fear of being harmed or causing harm
- Excess fear of germs or dirt
- Religious, violent, or sexual thoughts
- Needing things in perfect order
Compulsions—repeated and unwanted behaviors, such as:
- Excess checking on things—such as door locks, stoves, and light switches
- Making lists, counting, and arranging things
- Hoarding useless objects
- Repeating routine actions
- Rereading and rewriting
- Repeating phrases
- Excess hand washing
OCD may happen with:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms. OCD is diagnosed when symptoms:
- Are very upsetting
- Disrupt daily life
The goal is to reduce unwanted thoughts and compulsions. Early treatment can have better results. Options may be:
Sometimes OCD is severe and hard to treat.
In this case, options may be:
- Electroconvulsive therapy
—a brief electric pulse helps reset the brain
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)—
a device sends pulses to the brain
- Brain surgery
There are no steps for preventing OCD.
Arya S, Filkowski MM, et al. Deep brain stimulation for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Bull Menninger Clin. 2019;83(1):84-96.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd . Accessed March 12, 2021.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml. Accessed March 12, 2021.
7/15/2016 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114503/Obsessive-compulsive-disorder-OCD: Fontenelle LF, Coutinho ES, Lins-Martins NM, Fitzgerald PB, Fujiwara H, Yücel M. Electroconvulsive therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder: a systematic review. J Clin Psychiatry. 2015;76(7):949-957.
11/6/2018 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114503/Obsessive-compulsive-disorder-OCD: FDA permits marketing of transcranial magnetic stimulation for treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm617244.htm.
Last reviewed January 2021 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Adrian Preda, MD
Last Updated: 03/12/2021