What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Overview

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) makes you have unwanted thoughts that occur over and over. For example, you might always wonder if the oven was turned off before you left home. To get rid of these thoughts, you may also develop a compulsion. This is an action or ritual you perform again and again. You might check several times to make sure the oven is off. The action only makes you feel better for a short time. If you try to resist the urge to do it, you may feel great anxiety or have panic attacks.

Counseling (also called therapy) can help you manage your thoughts and actions. You may have one-on-one therapy or group therapy, or both. In group therapy, people with the same concerns share their feelings and give each other support. You also may have family therapy. Your loved ones can learn more about how to help you.

Your doctor also may prescribe medicine, such as an antidepressant, to help with symptoms.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of mental health condition that causes repeated unwanted thoughts. To get rid of the thoughts (obsessions), a person with OCD does the same tasks over and over (compulsions). For example, you may fear that everything you touch has germs on it, so you wash your hands over and over again.

What happens when you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

With OCD, you develop disturbing, obsessive thoughts that cause fear or anxiety. To get rid of these thoughts and relieve the fear, you perform rituals, such as repeated hand-washing. Treatment, such as counseling and medicines, can reduce the symptoms of OCD.

What are the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Obsessions and compulsions are key symptoms of OCD. Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, ideas, and impulses. They won't go away. Compulsions are behaviors that you repeat to try to control the obsessions. The symptoms usually take up a lot of time, more than 1 hour a day.

How is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) treated?

Treatment for OCD includes counseling and medicines. Using both tends to work best.

Counseling includes a type of cognitive behavioral therapy called exposure and response prevention (ERP). ERP slowly increases your contact with the thing that causes worries or anxiety. With the help of a counselor, ERP can reduce your symptoms over time.

Antidepressant medicines called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are most often used. Antidepressants work differently for everyone. Your doctor will help find the medicine and dose that works best for you.

Treatment can make your symptoms less severe. But you may still have some mild symptoms after you start treatment.

How is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) diagnosed?

Your doctor can check for OCD by asking about your symptoms and your past health. A physical exam may also be done. You may also get a mental health assessment. This is a check of your emotions and how you think, reason, and remember.

How are medicines used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

After you are diagnosed with OCD, your doctor will likely prescribe antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

SSRIs are used to relieve the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors in people who have OCD.

In some cases it takes time to adjust the dosage or find the right medicine that will work for you. You may start to feel better within a few weeks after starting antidepressant medicines. But it can take up to 2 to 3 months.

If you have questions or concerns about your medicines, or if you aren't feeling better as expected, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may increase the dose or change to another medicine.

Medicine choices

Medicines used to treat OCD include:

  • Antidepressants (SSRIs). Commonly used SSRIs include fluoxetine (for example, Prozac), fluvoxamine (Luvox), and sertraline (Zoloft). They are taken as tablets or capsules.
  • Venlafaxine. This can also help symptoms of OCD.
  • The tricyclic antidepressant clomipramine (Anafranil). It has been used for years to treat OCD. But it may have more side effects than SSRIs.
  • Other medicines, such as antipsychotics.

How can you care for yourself when you have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

It's important to take care of yourself every day when you have OCD. This includes taking your medicines and doing the homework assignments your therapist gives you. Reducing overall stress in your life may help you cope. It's also important to involve family members and loved ones in your treatment.

What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Experts don't know the exact cause of OCD. There may be a problem with the way one part of the brain sends information to another part. Not having enough of a brain chemical called serotonin may be part of the problem.

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition that causes repeated unwanted thoughts. To get rid of them, you may do the same tasks over and over. For example, if you fear that everything you touch has germs on it, you may wash your hands repeatedly to ease your fear.

How can you support someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

In order to help someone with OCD, it is important that family members or loved ones learn as much as possible about the condition.

It may help to attend counseling or support groups with or apart from your loved one who has OCD. You can learn ways to help the person with behavioral therapy. And you can learn ways to help them take medicines regularly.

You may also help by providing the health professional with information on behaviors and the effects of treatment.

How you respond to your loved one's symptoms is important. An angry response can make the symptoms worse. And accommodating the behaviors may also be harmful. It is important that you talk to your loved one's health professional about how you should respond and the best ways for you to help.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You feel you cannot stop from hurting yourself or someone else.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • A person with OCD mentions suicide. If a suicide threat seems real, with a specific plan and a way to carry it out, you should stay with the person, or ask someone you trust to stay with the person, until you get help.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your unwanted thoughts or repeated actions and rituals upset your daily activities.
  • Your symptoms of OCD are new or different from those you had before.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.