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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Diagnosis & Expected Duration

Monday, Aug. 27, 2007; 7:46 PM

Copyright Harvard Health Publications 2007

Diagnosis

Table of Contents

Many people with OCD first consult a primary-care physician when a compulsion begins to affect their health or everyday life. For example, an adult with compulsive hand washing may visit a dermatologist because of cracked, bleeding fingers, or a parent may consult a pediatrician when a child with OCD begins to bathe four or five times a day.

Depressed mood is very common in OCD. In fact, a person may talk mainly about feeling depressed, because the OCD symptoms are embarrassing and more difficult to discuss.

If your doctor suspects that the problem is a psychiatric illness, he or she will likely review your medical history, and ask you to describe current anxieties and recent stresses. The doctor may then refer you to a psychiatrist for treatment.

Your psychiatrist will diagnose OCD based on an evaluation that should include:

  • Asking questions about your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors

  • Assessing your level of psychological distress

  • Determining the impact of obsessions and compulsions on your everyday life and relationships

  • Checking for symptoms of other forms of psychiatric illness

Expected Duration

OCD rarely disappears on its own, and its symptoms may last for years if they are not treated properly. In fact, it is common for a person with OCD to have the problem for 5 to 10 years before seeing a psychiatrist.

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