According to the National Institutes of Health, about 2.2 million American adults have OCD, a common psychiatric disorder that often begins in childhood.[1],[2] People with OCD have two key symptoms: obsessions, defined as unwanted, recurring, anxiety-causing thoughts; and compulsions, which are repetitive behaviors that people carry out to help relieve the anxiety caused by obsessions.

Common obsessions include excessive fear of contamination, repeated doubts (such as thinking you’ve harmed someone while driving), a need for ordering and symmetry and aggressive or horrific impulses. Common compulsions include repeated cleaning (such as hand-washing), repeated checking (such as checking to see if doors are locked) and counting.[6]

People who have OCD realize that their actions and thoughts are irrational, but cannot stop them.[3] Often, people with OCD delay seeking treatment for an average of 7.5 years.[4] In addition, OCD can be masked by major depressive disorder which has a lifetime prevalence of 67 percent in patients with OCD.[5], [6]

OCD causes afflicted individuals marked distress, occupies much of their time, and interferes with normal routines, productivity at work or school and social relationships.

More information is available through the following organizations:

Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA)
8730 Georgia Ave.
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Phone: 240-485-1001

International OCD Foundation
PO Box 961029
Boston, MA 02196
Phone: 617-973-5801

OCD Center

1National Institute of Health. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Fact Sheet. Available at: http://report.nih.gov/NIHfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=54&key=O#O. Accessed May 12, 2011.
2 Kessler RC, et al. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry. 2005;62:617-27.
3 American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed, text revision. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2000.
4 Rasmussen SA, Tsuang MT. Clinical characteristics and family history in DSM-III obsessive compulsive disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 1986;143:317-322.
5 Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In: Hales RE, Yudofsky SC, Talbott JA, eds. Textbook of Psychiatry. 3rd ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press, Inc. 1999:600-610.
6 Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. In: Sadock BJ, Sadock VA, eds. Synopsis of Psychiatry. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2003:616-623.