by Scholten A


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness. It consists of unwanted, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions). The person with OCD does not feel able to control this. It can disrupt daily functions.


The exact cause of OCD is not known. The nervous system, environment, and genes may play a role.

Chromosome DNA
The genes that you inherit from your family may play a role in the development of OCD.
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Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of OCD are:

  • Genes
  • A history of abuse or neglect
  • Stressful events
  • Pregnancy—and right after birth


Symptoms of OCD may be:

  • Obsessions—repeated and unwanted ideas, images, or urges, such as:
    • Fear of being harmed or causing harm
    • Excess fear of germs or dirt
    • Religious, violent, or sexual thoughts
    • Needing things in perfect order
  • Compulsions—repeated and unwanted behaviors, such as:
    • Excess checking on things—such as door locks, stoves, and light switches
    • Making lists, counting, and arranging things
    • Hoarding useless objects
    • Repeating routine actions
    • Rereading and rewriting
    • Repeating phrases
    • Excess hand washing

OCD may happen with:


The doctor will ask about your symptoms. OCD is diagnosed when symptoms:

  • Are very upsetting
  • Disrupt daily life


The goal is to reduce unwanted thoughts and compulsions. Early treatment can have better results. Options may be:

Sometimes OCD is severe and hard to treat. In this case, options may be:

  • Electroconvulsive therapy —a brief electric pulse helps reset the brain
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)— a device sends pulses to the brain
  • Brain surgery


There are no steps for preventing OCD.


Anxiety and Depression Association of America 

International OCD Foundation 


Canadian Mental Health Association 

Canadian Psychiatric Association 


Arya S, Filkowski MM, et al. Deep brain stimulation for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Bull Menninger Clin. 2019;83(1):84-96.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Accessed March 12, 2021.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health website. Available at: Accessed March 12, 2021.

7/15/2016 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance  : Fontenelle LF, Coutinho ES, Lins-Martins NM, Fitzgerald PB, Fujiwara H, Yücel M. Electroconvulsive therapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder: a systematic review. J Clin Psychiatry. 2015;76(7):949-957.

11/6/2018 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance  : FDA permits marketing of transcranial magnetic stimulation for treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder. Available at:

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD
  • Review Date: 01/2021
  • Update Date: 00/31/2021