10 Top Questions About Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

by Jerry Kennard, Ph.D. Medical Reviewer

What is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be considered a disorder of brain and behavior involving obsessions (intrusive negative thoughts that won’t go away) and compulsions (the irresistible urge to behave in certain ways, often repeatedly). OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder.

What Causes OCD?

No one factor seems to account for the disorder. OCD can runs in families and stressful events can account for onset in around one in three cases. The neurotransmitter serotonin may have a role in OCD as studies have shown brain imbalances of serotonin. There is some evidence that overprotective parenting can increase the risk of developing OCD but on the whole upbringing is not considered to be a factor.

Is it True That Infections Can Cause OCD?

There are some instances of children developing OCD following a severe streptococcal infection. A theory is that the infection doesn’t cause OCD but may trigger the disorder in children who are already genetically at risk of the disorder.

How Big a Problem is OCD?

Estimates suggest that one in 50 people will develop OCD. It generally starts during teen years but not everyone seeks help, or they put off seeking help, sometimes for many years. Statistics from The National Institute of Mental Health point to equal numbers of men and women being affected and that approximately 2.2 million American adults have the disorder.

Do Obsessions Always Come with Compulsions?

Most people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions but it is estimated that as many as 20 percent have obsessions only and 10 percent have compulsions only.

What is an OCD Spike?

This is not a clinical term. The use of the term ‘spike’ is frequently, and increasingly, used by support groups and forums to describe anything from an OCD trigger, to an obsession or the distress caused by related anxiety. It is therefore a fairly vague and unhelpful term for those attempting to grasp the essentials of OCD.

What are Some Examples of Obsessions?

Obsessive thoughts can actually cover any subject but in general they fall into one or more of five categories. These include: relationships, sexual thoughts, magical thoughts, religious thoughts, and violent thoughts.

What are Some Examples of Compulsions?

Compulsions can involve many different things but in general they will tend to fall into the areas of checking, hoarding, cleanliness and the need to prevent contamination, and symmetry and orderliness. Examples are frequently shown in real-life documentaries or picked up as humorous or quirky character features of, for example, fictional detectives or writers.

Is Self-Help an Option with OCD?

Yes it is an important aspect of recovery. There are many structured programs in the form of DVDs or self-help books that can help. It is always helpful to talk to a trusted person. So, for example, if obsessive thoughts are based around religion or faith, it can be very helpful to talk the issue over with a religious leader.

What Treatments are Available?

Professional help is available through cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. Estimates suggest that three out of four people who use CBT show great improvement but around one in four will experience a relapse later on. It is estimated that 6 out of 10 people who try medications, usually antidepressants, experience a reduction in symptoms but roughly 50 percent will relapse once medication is stopped.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.
Meet Our Writer
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D.

Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s work background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.