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Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder | UPMC Health Plan

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) includes thoughts and behaviors that affect daily living, working, and relationships. The thoughts are characterized as obsessive and behaviors as compulsions. These obsessions and compulsions are uncontrollable and reoccurring. The thoughts can be based on fear; behaviors are often done as a way to cope with the repeated thoughts. In some cases, individuals diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder can have only obsessions or only compulsions. OCD can be diagnosed by a doctor based on Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) criteria. It is a chronic disorder, but can be treated with medication and therapy.

Common themes of obsessions

  • Fear of germs
  • Importance of order or symmetry
  • Aggressive thoughts toward self or others
  • Unwanted thoughts of harm, sexual experiences, or religion


  • Handwashing or excessive cleaning
  • Organizing
  • Checking
  • Counting
  • Sticking to a strict routine
  • Silently repeating phrases, word, prayer

How can I tell if I suffer from OCD?

Compulsions serve as a response to obsessive thoughts and temporarily relieve anxiety and fear from thoughts. The obsessive thoughts reoccur, causing the cycle to repeat. Individuals diagnosed with OCD spend at least an hour per day completing compulsions. When these thoughts and behaviors impact quality of life, it may be time to discuss symptoms with your doctor.

About a third of individuals diagnosed with OCD can experience a motor or vocal tic. Tics are defined as sudden, repetitive movements or behaviors. Common tics include shoulder shrugging, head jerking, eye blinking, sniffling, or throat clearing.

Who has OCD?

  • About 1% of the U.S. population
  • Signs can begin in childhood and most are diagnosed by 19 years old

What causes OCD?

There is no concrete cause. Risk factors include:

  • Brain structure (research suggests differences in frontal or subcortical cortex)
  • Family history of OCD diagnosis
  • Environment
  • Trauma

What is the treatment for OCD?

OCD can be managed and treated using medications and therapies to lower symptom occurrence.

  • Medication
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Exposure and response prevention therapy (includes introduction of fear gradually after learning healthy coping techniques to manage anxiety)

Talk with your doctor regarding symptoms of OCD and possible treatment options. Be sure to monitor side effects and always follow guidelines recommended by your doctor. It can also be helpful to join a support group of individuals diagnosed with OCD. Sticking to medication regimen, engaging in physical activity, and learning healthy coping techniques to manage your condition and emotional health can improve your quality of life.



National Institute of Mental Health

Mayo Clinic