Obsessive Compulsive Disorder


What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder that involves obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are persistent and uncontrollable thoughts, urges or images that are invasive, unwelcome and alarming. They cause anxiety or discomfort that significantly interferes with normal life. The obsessions become so powerful that individuals with OCD feel compelled to act repeatedly in response to their obsessive thoughts. Often, people with OCD realize their obsessions are irrational, but they believe their compulsive behavior will help relieve their discomfort. Sadly, any relief provided by the compulsion is short-lived, and people can find themselves locked in a downward cycle of obsessive-compulsive behavior from which they can’t escape.

OCD is a fairly common behavioral health condition. In the U.S., about 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children have OCD.

Causes of OCD

Research shows that OCD is based on brain chemistry, but so far no definitive cause or causes of OCD have been found. OCD is likely caused by a combination of genetic, chemical, cognitive, behavioral and environmental factors that work together to trigger the disorder.


Genetics are responsible for approximately 45-65% of the risk for developing OCD. 1 in 4 people with OCD has an immediate family member with the disorder. 

Cognitive Factors

Cognitive factors impacting OCD include faulty or dysfunctional beliefs. Examples include perfectionism, intolerance for uncertainty, a sense of inflated responsibility and more. These misinterpretations or intrusive thoughts often lead to the formation of obsessions and compulsions.

Behavioral Causes

The behavioral theory suggests that people with OCD associate certain objects or situations with fear, avoiding those things by performing "rituals".

Environmental Causes

The environment we live in can have an influence on whether OCD symptoms will develop. Studies indicate that people with OCD have experienced stressful and traumatic life events prior to the onset of the illness.

OCD Symptoms & Signs

OCD is characterized by two types of symptoms:  obsessive thoughts & compulsive behaviors. OCD can show itself in many ways, but behaviors are usually based on repetition. Repetition may manifest itself in your thoughts to create obsessions. These repetitive actions are called compulsions or rituals. Often, compulsions are obvious—something we can observe. However, they may also occur mentally, such as internal counting or repetition. Mental rituals can be as incapacitating as those we can see for an individual with OCD.

Common OCD Obsessions & Behaviors

Common obsessions are based on perfectionism, concern for safety, fear of contamination, or losing control. Obsessions are intrusive and unwanted, but they’re persistent and difficult to ignore. And, obsessions often lead to repeated actions to relieve the stress.

Compulsive behaviors are actions that a person takes to try to alleviate the distress of obsessive thoughts, to stop the thoughts or to prevent something bad from happening. Examples include repeatedly locking the door or checking if the stove is turned off or washing your hands and cleaning excessively to address an obsession with contamination. Obsession around perfectionism can lead to compulsions of maintaining symmetry and order. OCD behaviors are commonly centered around a repetition of a certain number, like the compulsion to wash your hands three times before they feel clean.

OCD Side Effects

A variety of side effects have been associated with OCD, including:

  • Mood disruptions – ­fear, guilt or panic attacks
  • Behavioral issues – agitation, hoarding, impulsivity or social isolation
  • Psychological conditions – anxiety or depression
  • Others – food aversion or nightmares
OCD Diagnosis & Treatment

If you or a loved one need treatment for OCD, Mercy can help. With proper treatment, many patients have been able to lessen these symptoms and live full lives.

Learn about diagnosis & treatment options for OCD here.

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