Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition where people develop anxiety-producing thoughts (obsessions), which they may attempt to relieve by performing an action (compulsions).
The obsessions and/or compulsions are often time consuming, distressing to the individual and interfere with their home, work or social life.
OCD affects 1 in 100 people in the UK.
Obsessions are unwanted, anxiety-producing thoughts that cause marked distress. Most people with OCD recognise that these thoughts are irrational.
Common obsessions include:
- Fears about contamination with dirt or diseases;
- Need for symmetry or exactness;
- Worries about injury or harm to yourself or others.
Compulsions are repetitive behavioural or mental acts that a person with OCD feels they need to do to control their obsessions. By performing that compulsion the individual feels like they can prevent their obsession from occurring or reduce the anxiety associated with it. However, they commonly lack any obvious link to the obsession.
Common compulsions include:
- Hand washing;
- Repeating words.
Research suggests that OCD may be due to an imbalance in chemical messengers in the brain, including serotonin.
The exact cause for this is unknown but OCD is more common in those who have a relative with OCD or another mental health condition. In addition the symptoms can be triggered by increased stress or after an infection (cough and cold).
OCD is diagnosed from speaking to a patient to understand their symptoms in full.
Questionnaires are a commonly used tool to assess the severity of OCD. They are also useful in monitoring response to treatment.