Overview of OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be a debilitating disorder with the following two anxiety-related essential features: obsessions (undesirable, recurrent, disturbing thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive or ritualized behaviors).

People with OCD experience unwanted obsessions, which cause anxiety. Severe anxiety produces feelings of dread, worry, fright, and apprehension (see generalized anxiety disorder [GAD]).

Certain behaviors are performed compulsively in an attempt to lessen this anxiety. Although they realize their obsessions are excessive and their behavior is unreasonable, people with OCD feel powerless to control either. In fact, OCD symptoms can be overwhelming and result in severe impairment and dysfunction, which can begin at a young age.

Incidence and Prevalence of OCD

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) reports that about 3 percent of people in the United States have OCD. Typical age of onset for boys is 6 to 15, while for women it is often later—between 20 and 30. Risk factors like genetic predisposition and environmental stress contribute to OCD.

Also, OCD is more common among people of higher education, IQ, and socioeconomic status. Men and women, however, are affected equally. Though its course is chronic and usually lasts a lifetime, it is treatable with medication, behavioral therapy, and, in extremely rare cases, brain surgery.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 31 Jan 2001

Last Modified: 28 Sep 2015