What is OCD?

OCD is a mental health condition that involvesTrusted Source an obsession or compulsion, distressing actions, and repetitive thoughts. It can be challenging for a person with OCD to carry out routine tasks.

A person with OCD typically:

  • has thoughts, images, or urges that they feel unable to control
  • does not want to have these intrusive thoughts and feelings
  • experiences a significant amount of discomfort, possibly involving fear, disgust, doubt, or a conviction that things must be done in a certain way
  • spends a lot of time focusing on these obsessions and engaging in compulsions, which interferes with personal, social, and professional activities


OCD can affect different people in different ways. It may involve:

Concern with checking

A person with OCD may feel the need to check repeatedly for problems. This might include:

  • checking taps, alarms, door locks, house lights, and appliances to prevent leaks, damage, or fire, for example
  • checking their body for signs of illness
  • confirming the authenticity of memories
  • repeatedly checking communication, such as e-mails, for fear of having made a mistake or offending the recipient

Fears of contamination

Some people with OCD feel a continual, overwhelming need to wash. They may fear that objects that they touch are contaminated.

This can lead to:

  • excessive toothbrushing or handwashing
  • repeatedly cleaning the bathroom, kitchen, and other rooms
  • avoiding crowds for fear of contracting germs

Some people experience a sense of contamination if they feel that someone has mistreated or criticized them. They may try to remove this feeling by washing.


This involves a person feeling unable to throw away used or useless possessions.

Intrusive thoughts

This involves feeling unable to prevent repetitious unwanted thoughts These may involve violence, including suicide or harming others.

The thoughts can cause intense distress, but the person is unlikely to act in a way that reflects this violence.

A person with this type of OCD may fear that they are a pedophile, even with no evidence to support this.

Symmetry and orderliness

A person with this type of OCD may feel that they need to arrange objects in a certain order to avoid discomfort or harm.

They may repeatedly rearrange the books on a shelf, for example.


OCD involvesTrusted Source obsessions, compulsions, or both. These can cause distress and interfere with the person’s ability to perform routine activities.

Below, learn more about obsessions and compulsions.


While everyone worries, in people with OCD, worries and anxiety can take over, making it hard to carry out everyday tasks.

Common topics of this anxiety include:

  • Contamination, by bodily fluids, germs, dirt, and other substances
  • Losing control, such as the fear of acting on an urge to self-harm or hurt others
  • Perfectionism, which may involve the fear of losing things or an intense focus on exactness or remembering things
  • Harm, including a fear of being responsible for a catastrophic event
  • Unwanted sexual thoughts, including thoughts about inappropriate activities
  • Religious or superstitious beliefs, such as a concern about offending God or stepping on cracks in the sidewalk


Not every repetitious behavior is a compulsion. Most people use repetitive behaviors, such as bedtime routines, to help them manage everyday life.

For a person with OCD, however, the need to perform repetitious behavior is intense, it occurs frequently, and it is time-consuming. The behavior may take on a ritualistic aspect.

Some examples include:

  • washing and cleaning, including handwashing
  • monitoring the body for symptoms
  • repeating routine activities, such as getting up from a chair
  • mental compulsions, such as repeatedly reviewing an event

OCD in children

The first signs of OCD oftenTrusted Source appear in adolescence, but they sometimes emerge in childhood.

Complications among young people, including children, with OCD include:

  • low self-esteem
  • disrupted routines
  • difficulty completing schoolwork
  • physical illness, due to stress, for example
  • trouble forming or maintaining friendships and other relationships

When OCD begins in childhood, it may be more commonTrusted Source in males than females. By adulthood, however, it affects males and females at equal rates.


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