10 Facts About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Essential OCD Facts You Need to Know

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is considered an anxiety disorder because the people affected by it experience severe anxiety due to overwhelming, obsessive thoughts. In many cases, ritualistic behavior is used as a way to reduce the anxiety caused by obsessions. In order to effectively cope with OCD, it helps to have a solid understanding of the basics of the disorder, including causes, diagnosis, and treatment.

Here are 10 facts about OCD that you need to know:

1. OCD is an anxiety disorder. People affected by this mental illness experience severe anxiety as the result of obsessive thoughts. Oftentimes, rituals or compulsions are used reduce the anxiety caused by obsessions. These behaviors include:

  • Repeatedly checking to make sure doors are locked.
  • Counting objects, letters, and/or words.
  • Rearranging objects to ensure a specific order and/or symmetry.
  • Doing things in multiples, such as turning the lights on and off five times because five is a "good" number.

OCD is characterized by obsessions and compulsions, but the ways in which OCD symptoms manifest vary from person to person. There are several subtypes of OCD, including an obsession with cleanliness, an obsession with symmetry and order, and hoarding.

2. Many people with OCD have insight into their symptoms; that is, they recognize the irrationality or excessiveness of obsessions and/or compulsions.

This can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the disorder. Read more about OCD and Insight.

3. OCD affects about 2.5 percent of people over their lifetime. There is no difference in the rate of OCD among men and women. People of all cultures and ethnicity are affected, but there are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing this disorder, including:

  • Age. You are most at risk for developing OCD during late adolescence. Once you reach early adulthood, the risk of developing OCD drops with age.
  • Gender. Males and females are equally at risk following the onset of puberty, but males are more likely to develop OCD during childhood.
  • Genetics. Having family members with OCD significantly increases your risk. The closer that person is to your immediate family, the greater the risk, especially if their OCD began as a child or teenager.
  • Traumatic life events. Stressful, traumatic events, such as sexual abuse or the death of a loved one, increase your risk.
  • Brain structure. Although research isn't entirely clear, it is believed that there is a relationship between OCD symptoms and irregularities in the brain.

Read more about Risk Factors for Developing OCD.

4. The symptoms of OCD usually start in adolescence and early adulthood; however, children as young as 4 can be affected. Although rare, OCD can also begin in late adulthood. Read more about Early Versus Late Onset OCD.

5. A single OCD gene has not been identified. Developing OCD is the result of a complex interaction between life experience and genetic risk factors. As previously mentioned, the likelihood of developing OCD increases if you have family members with OCD.

Read more about The Genetics of OCD.

6. OCD can’t be diagnosed using a blood test or x-ray. A diagnosis must be made by a trained mental health professional such as psychiatrist or psychologist using diagnostic criteria and clinical experience. The symptoms of OCD resemble other illnesses, so it is important to seek professional help. Read more about How OCD Is Diagnosed.

7. Effective treatments are available. These include medications such as Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine) and Anafranil (clomipramine) that affect serotonin levels, as well as psychotherapies including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Medication and psychotherapy work about equally as well.

8. Stress is a major trigger of OCD symptoms. Keeping your stress levels in check will go a long way toward reducing the severity and frequency of your symptoms. Read more about Relaxation Techniques for OCD.

9. OCD is a chronic illness. Your focus should be on day-to-day management of your symptoms, rather than a final cure.

10. Many successful intelligent people suffer from anxiety disorders, including OCD. With good coping mechanisms and treatments in place, it is certainly possible to live a happy and productive life.


American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision" 2000 Washington, DC: Author.

Goodman, Wayne K. & Lydiard, R. Bruce. "Recognition and treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder". Journal of Clinical Psychiatry December 2007 68: e30. 01 September 2008.

Pauls, David. "The genetics of obsessive compulsive disorder: a review of the evidence." American Journal of Medical Genetics April 15 2008 148: 133-139. 01 September 2008.

Schruers, K., Koning, K., Luermans, J., Haack, M. J., & Griez, E. "Obsessive-compulsive disorder: a critical review of therapeutic perspectives". Acta psychiatrica Scandinavica 15 February 2005 111:261-271. 01 September 2008

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