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Six Key Facts About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common, often chronic, behavioral health disorder.  OCD symptoms include obsessions (repeated thoughts) or compulsions (repeated behaviors). A person can have one or both. An example of OCD could be someone who has anxiety about germs. They might think their hands are never clean. They stand in front of the sink and wash their hands over and over. Often, someone with OCD will have a special number. If a person's “number” is seven, they would wash their hands seven times, every time.

OCD can be hard to live with because it takes up so much time and energy in a person's life. The repeated thoughts and rituals can also cause anxiety. It often interrupts school, work, and friendships. The good news is that OCD can be controlled with proper treatment.

1. Obsessions

Obsessive symptoms are made up of repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety. You can think of obsessions as constant, uncontrollable thoughts. Obsessive symptoms can include:

  • Putting things in a specific order.
  • Fear of germs or being dirty.
  • Unwanted thoughts about religion, harm, or sex.
  • Aggressive thoughts about yourself or others.

2. Compulsions

Compulsions are repeated behaviors. People with OCD repeat these behaviors to satisfy an obsessive thought. This can be things like:

  • Cleaning or hand washing too much.
  • Putting things in a very specific order.
  • Checking things constantly, like constantly going back to see if the oven is off.
  • Compulsive counting. This is when a person always does an action a specific number of times, like pressing an "off" button seven times.

3. Motor tics are common too

Some people with OCD have what's called a tic disorder. Tics are quick, repeated movements, like:

  • Blinking a lot all of a sudden.
  • Quick eye movement.
  • Frowning.
  • Shoulder shrugs.
  • Head or shoulder jerking.
  • Throat clearing.
  • Sniffing.
  • Grunting.

Like compulsions, people with OCD may not be able to control these movements. They might also repeat them.

4. OCD is not the same as double checking

What makes OCD such a disruptive disorder is the need for people with the disorder to repeat these actions over and over. We've all walked back to the stove before to be sure it's turned off. But for someone with OCD, that one trip can turn into seven or eight.

Many people with OCD may even know that their actions don't make a lot of sense. Still, the thought of not doing it can give them so much anxiety that they can't help but to repeat it again and again.

5. Doctors aren't what cause OCD, but there are factors

Genetics might play a role in who is affected by OCD. Research shows that people who have immediate family with OCD — a parent or child — are more likely to develop the disorder too.

Some brain studies have shown that people with OCD could have differences in their brain makeup. Some doctors believe people with abnormalities in certain parts of their brain are more likely to develop OCD. However, more research needs to be done.

People who experienced trauma are more likely to develop OCD. This can include physical, sexual, or mental abuse.

OCD can also be linked to other mental disorders, like:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Dysmorphic disorder (thinking that something's wrong with your body).

6. But doctors do know that treatment can help

Most OCD patients respond to either medicine, therapy, or a combination of both. While doctors are researching some new treatment types, like deep brain stimulation, these treatments remain the most common and effective.


Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) antidepressants can help lessen OCD symptoms. If a doctor prescribes these to you or a loved one, be patient. These medicines might take up to 12 weeks to work. Doctors might also suggest antipsychotic medicines to help people who have tics.


Therapy can be a good option, even for people who didn't get better with medicine. Some therapy tries to reverse the habits OCD creates.

Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) therapy is another common and effective type of therapy. ERP forces people with OCD to face their fears and then not do their ritual. For example, someone who suffers from OCD about germs may be asked to touch a toilet seat but then not be allowed to wash their hands. ERP can make the patient very anxious. But, results show that it can work.

Remember that PerformCare has a team of doctors ready to help our Members find the care they need. If you or a family Member has OCD or another mental or behavioral disorder, find a provider who can help.

SOURCE: "Obssessive-Compulsive Disorder."