Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by uncontrollable, unwanted thoughts and repetitive, ritualized behaviors you feel compelled to perform. If you have OCD, you probably recognize that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are irrational—but even so, you feel unable to resist them and break free.
Like a needle getting stuck on an old record, OCD causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may check the stove 20 times to make sure it’s really turned off, or wash your hands until they’re scrubbed raw.
Sufferers of OCD are generally very anxious and emotional. They display many non-OCD symptoms, such as signs of depression, excessive worry, extreme tension, and the constant feeling that nothing is ever right.
OCD is a disorder that is not yet fully understood. However, medical professionals believe there is a genetic component to this disease, as there is some research that has shown that this disorder has the tendency to run in families. This behavior can also be learned based on habits you may have developed during childhood or over a long period of time.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy, is effective for many people with OCD. Exposure and response prevention (ERP), a type of CBT therapy, involves gradually exposing you to a feared object or obsession, such as dirt, and having you learn healthy ways to cope with your anxiety. ERP takes effort and practice, but you may enjoy a better quality of life once you learn to manage your obsessions and compulsions.
Therapy may take place in individual, family or group sessions.
Certain psychiatric medications can help control the obsessions and compulsions of OCD. Most commonly, antidepressants are tried first.
Antidepressants approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat OCD include:
Clomipramine (Anafranil) for adults and children 10 years and older
Fluoxetine (Prozac) for adults and children 7 years and older
Fluvoxamine for adults and children 8 years and older
Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva) for adults only
Sertraline (Zoloft) for adults and children 6 years and older
However, your doctor may prescribe other antidepressants and psychiatric medications.