Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where you suffer from unwanted repetitive thoughts and behaviors. OCD may be due to neurobiological, environmental, genetic and psychological factors. An imbalance of a brain chemical called serotonin may play a major role.


Symptoms may include:

  • Obsessions — unwanted, repetitive and intrusive ideas, impulses or images; common obsessions include:
    • Persistent fears that harm may come to self or a loved one
    • Unreasonable concern with being contaminated
    • Unreasonable concerns about safety
    • Unacceptable religious, violent or sexual thoughts
    • Excessive need to do things correctly or perfectly
    • Persistent worries about a tragic event
  • Compulsions — repetitive behaviors or mental acts to reduce the distress associated with obsessions; common compulsions include:
    • Excessive checking of door locks, stoves, water faucets and light switches
    • Repeatedly making lists, counting, arranging or aligning things
    • Collecting and hoarding useless objects
    • Repeating routine actions a certain number of times until it feels right
    • Unnecessary rereading and rewriting
    • Mentally repeating phrases
    • Repeatedly washing hands

Diagnosis & Treatment

Your doctor can diagnose you with OCD through a psychiatric assessment when obsessions and/or compulsions either:

  • Cause significant distress
  • Interfere with your ability to properly perform at work, school, or in relationships

Treatment reduces OCD thoughts and behaviors but does not completely eliminate them. Most commonly, treatment is a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy.


Behavioral therapy addresses the actions associated with OCD; cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) addresses both the thought processes and the actions associated with OCD.

Therapies used to treat OCD include:

  • Exposure and response prevention — helps you gradually confront the feared object or obsession without giving in to the compulsive ritual linked to it
  • Aversion therapy — use of painful stimulus to prevent OCD behavior
  • Thought switching — you learn to replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts
  • Flooding — intense exposure to object that causes OCD behavior
  • Implosion therapy — repeated exposure to object that causes fear
  • Thought stopping — you learn to stop negative thoughts

Gamma Knife Radiosurgery

By targeting certain connections in the brain, Gamma Knife radiosurgery has achieved results in some patients with OCD that are not responsive to other types of therapy.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.