Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by features called obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are intrusive thoughts, mental images, or urges to perform specific actions. While the particular obsessions vary widely, they often include fear of illness or contamination; a desire for symmetry or getting things “just right;” or intrusive thoughts involving religion, sex, or aggression. Compulsions consist of the repetitive performance of certain actions, such as checking or verifying, washing, counting, arranging, acting out specific routines, or seeking assurance. These behaviors are performed to relieve anxiety, rather than to seek pleasure as in other compulsive behaviors like gambling, eating, or sex.
While almost everyone experiences obsessive feelings and compulsive behaviors occasionally or in particular contexts, in OCD they take up more than an hour a day and cause problems with work, school, or social life. People with OCD generally experience anxiety and other distress around their need to accommodate their obsessions or compulsions.
About half the time, OCD becomes evident in childhood or adolescence, and most other cases appear in early adulthood. It is unusual for OCD to start after age 40. It tends to appear earlier in males, but by adulthood it is slightly more common in females. Affected individuals can experience periods when their symptoms increase or decrease in severity, but the condition usually does not go away completely.
Some people with OCD have additional mental health disorders such as generalized anxiety, depression, phobias, panic disorders, or schizophrenia. OCD can also occur in people with other neurological conditions such as Tourette syndrome and similar disorders, traumatic brain injury, stroke, or dementia.