OCD is characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions that a person experiences and is not able to stop.
Obsessions are recurrent or persistent thoughts, impulses, sensations, or images that intrude on one’s day thinking and can cause significant distress and interfere with daily functioning. They are not simply excessive worries about real problems. Examples of obsessions include a fear of contamination, fear that something terrible may happen to someone, need for symmetry, order, or precision, and disturbing thoughts or urges.
Compulsions are repetitive and excessive behaviors or acts that the person feels compelled to perform in response to – or independent of – obsessions. The behaviors can include excessive handwashing or showering, particular ordering or arranging things, repetitive and ritualized checking of doors, locks, stoves, touching, and counting.
OCD affects about 1-3% of the U.S. population, and the mean age of onset is about twenty years. Symptoms may worsen in relation to life stressors. Many OCD patients also suffer from depression, social anxiety, panic disorder, eating disorders, and alcoholism.
Treatment of OCD includes cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with exposure and response prevention, medications, and surgery. CBT has proven to be a highly effective treatment for a large group of patients with mild to moderate OCD. Medications, especially those that increase the neurotransmitter serotonin, have also shown to significantly alleviate symptoms. Patients that have severe OCD or do not adequately respond to therapy or medications may be referred for neurosurgical treatments such as deep brain stimulation, capsulotomy, or cingulotomy.