Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD causes people to suffer in silence and secrecy and can destroy relationships and the ability to work. It may bring on shame, ridicule, anger, and intolerance from friends and family. Although it has been reported in children, it strikes most often during adolescence or young adult years. The illness can affect people in any income bracket, of any race, gender, or ethnic group and in any occupation. If people recognize the symptoms and seek treatment, OCD can be controlled.
OCD plagues people with intrusive, unwanted thoughts or obsessions, which are rarely pleasant. People who have these obsessions recognize that they are senseless. Still, they are unable to stop them. They may worry about becoming contaminated by dirt or germs and believe touching doorknobs or common objects will taint them. Others may fear becoming violent or aggressive, or they may have an unreasonable fear they will unintentionally harm people. Some may struggle with blasphemous or distasteful sexual thoughts, while others become overly concerned about order, arrangement, or symmetry.
In an attempt to ease the anxiety related to their obsessions, people often develop ritualistic behaviors, called compulsions. Often, these reflect the patient's obsessions. For example, an obsessive fear about contamination often leads to compulsive hand washing, even to the point where the person's hands bleed. Others repeatedly touch a specific object or say a name or phrase in response to an obsession. An extreme and intrusive fear of making mistakes on the job may result in a person completing tasks extremely slowly, even to the point that the job is never finished. Obsessions may also result in compulsive collecting of useless items such as magazines and newspapers until they clog entire rooms of homes and endanger occupants' safety.
The most common of many compulsions are washing and checking. Other compulsive behaviors include counting (often while performing another compulsive action such as hand washing), repeating, hoarding, and endlessly rearranging objects in an effort to keep them in precise alignment with each other. These behaviors generally are intended to ward off harm to the person with OCD or others. Some people with OCD have regimented rituals while others have rituals that are complex and changing. Performing rituals may give the person with OCD some relief from anxiety, but it is only temporary.
These obsessions are unwanted ideas or impulses that repeatedly well up in the mind of the person with OCD. Persistent fears that harm may come to self or a loved one, an unreasonable belief that one has a terrible illness, or an excessive need to do things correctly or perfectly, are common. Again and again, the individual experiences a disturbing thought, such as, "My hands may be contaminated--I must wash them"; "I may have left the gas on"; or "I am going to injure my child." These thoughts are...