Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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Definition

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, checking on things or cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions. For people with OCD, thoughts are persistent, and unwanted routines and behaviors are rigid, and not doing them causes great distress.1

About 1.2 percent of Americans have OCD and women are slightly more affected than men. The average age symptoms appear is 19 years old.1

Some signs of OCD include1:
  • Some people spend many hours cleaning their surroundings or washing themselves to reduce the fear that germs, dirt, or chemicals will "contaminate" them.
  • Repeating words to dispel anxiety. Some people utter a name or phrase or repeat a behavior several times. They know these repetitions won’t actually guard against injury, but fear that harm will occur if the repetitions aren’t done.
  • Checking to reduce the fear of harming oneself or others by, for example, forgetting to lock the door or turn off the gas stove. Some people repeatedly retrace driving routes to be sure they haven’t hit anyone.
  • Ordering and arranging to reduce discomfort. Some people like to put objects, such as books in a certain order, or arrange household items in a symmetric fashion.
  • Mental compulsions to respond to intrusive obsessive thoughts, some people silently pray or say phrases to reduce anxiety or prevent a dreaded future event.
There are no known causes for OCD. Researchers think that OCD may be linked to faulty brain circuits.5
Exposure response prevention therapy helps a person tolerate the anxiety associated with obsessive thoughts while not acting out a compulsion to reduce that anxiety. Over time, this leads to less anxiety and more self-mastery.4
Treatments for OCD can include1, 3, 6:
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: During treatment sessions, patients are exposed to the situations that create anxiety and provoke compulsive behavior or mental rituals. Through exposure, patients learn to decrease and then stop the rituals that consume their lives.
  • Medication: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are effective in the treatment of OCD.
  • Self-help/Coping: Keeping a healthy lifestyle and being aware of warning signs and what to do if they return can help in coping with OCD, using basic relaxation techniques, such as meditation, yoga, visualization, and massage, can help ease the stress and anxiety caused by OCD.
Funded by

Vulnerability, Trauma, Resilience & Culture Laboratory
School of Psychology
Faculty of Social Sciences
University of Ottawa

136 Jean-Jacques Lussier, Ottawa, ON,
Canada, K1N 6N5
613-562-5800 ext. 4459
vtrac@uOttawa.ca