What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is also known as OCD. It involves having irrational thoughts, fears and obsessions that cause a person to have compulsions, or repetitive behaviors. Some people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder may only have one or the other (obsessions or compulsions). About 1 in 50 people in the United States has OCD.


The symptoms for obsessive-compulsive disorder may be categorized into obsession symptoms and compulsion symptoms. The signs and symptoms for OCD obsessions include a fear of being contaminated by shaking hands or by touching objects others have touched, doubts that you've forgotten to do something like lock the door or car, feeling intense stress when objects aren't in perfect order or facing a certain way, visions of hurting yourself or someone else, thoughts about shouting obscenities or acting inappropriately, avoiding situations that can trigger obsessions (such as shaking hands), or feeling distressed about unpleasant sexual images repeating in your mind.

There are certain themes that are seen with obsessions. Examples of common themes that are seen with obsessions include the fear of contamination or dirt, having things orderly and symmetrical, aggressive or horrific thoughts about harming yourself or others, unwanted thoughts, including aggression, or sexual or religious subjects.

The signs and symptoms of OCD compulsion symptoms include washing your hands until your skin becomes raw, checking doors or other things repeatedly to make sure they are secure or in place, counting in certain patterns, silently repeating a prayer, word or phrase, or arranging things in your home or elsewhere to face the same way.

There are also certain themes seen with compulsions too. Examples of themes that are seen with compulsions include washing and cleaning, counting, checking, demanding reassurances, following a strict routine, and orderliness.

Risk factors that may increase the risk of developing or triggering obsessive-compulsive disorder include family history and stressful life events. You have an increased risk for developing obsessive-compulsive disorder if you have parents or other family members who have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Additionally, if you have been through a stressful or traumatic life event, or you tend to have strong emotional reactions to stress, you may be at an increases risk for developing obsessive-compulsive disorder. In this case, strong emotional reactions to stress may be a trigger for the signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder such as rituals or irrational thoughts.