Frequently Asked Questions about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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What is OCD?
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a brain and behavior disorder that is categorized as an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). OCD causes severe anxiety in those affected and involves both obsessions and compulsions that interfere with daily life. Research suggests that OCD involves problems in communication between the front part of the brain and deeper structures. These brain structures use a chemical messenger called serotonin. Pictures of the brain at work also show that in some people, the brain circuits involved in OCD become normalized with either serotonin medicines or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

What are the symptoms of OCD?
OCD causes severe anxiety in those affected and involves both obsessions and compulsions that interfere with daily life. Obsessions are persistent ideas, thoughts, impulses or images that are experienced as intrusive and inappropriate and cause marked anxiety or distress. The most common obsessions are repeated thoughts about contamination, repeated doubts, a need to have things in a particular order, aggressive or horrific impulses, and sexual imagery. Compulsions are the individuals attempt to suppress such thoughts or impulses or to neutralize them with some other thought or action. These can include repetitive behaviors, such as hand washing, ordering or checking on things; or mental acts, such as praying, counting, or repeating words silently.

At what age does OCD begin?
OCD can start at any time beginning as early as preschool and continuing to adulthood. Age at onset tends to be earlier in males that in females: between ages 6 and 15 years for males and between ages 20 and 29 years for females.

Is OCD inherited?
Research shows that OCD does run in families and that genes likely play a role in the development of the disorder. Genes appear to be only partly responsible for causing the disorder though and it is thought that it is more likely a combination of genetic susceptibility and environmental influences.

How is OCD diagnosed?
There are no laboratory or brain imaging tests to diagnose OCD. The diagnosis is made based on the observation and assessment of the person’s symptoms by a mental health professional.

How effective are treatments for OCD?
Currently, there is only one type of medication that has been shown to be effective in treating Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SRIs), including clomipramine, have been shown to reduce symptoms in 40% - 60% of patients with OCD. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has also been shown to be effective. Patients who respond to medication usually show a 40 to 60% reduction in OCD symptoms, while those who respond to CBT often report a 60 to 80% reduction in OCD symptoms.
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