Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a potentially disabling anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are characterized by an unpleasant complex combination of emotions often accompanied by physical sensations such as heart palpitations (arrhythmias or irregular heart beat), nausea, angina (chest pain), shortness of breath, tension headache, and nervousness. Symptoms of OCD can lead to generalized anxiety.
OCD can be debilitating, and is composed of two anxiety-related features: obsessions (undesirable, recurrent, disturbing thoughts) and compulsions (repetitive or ritualized behaviors).
An individual with OCD has intrusive and unwanted thoughts and repeatedly performs tasks to get rid of the thoughts. For example, individuals with OCD may fear that everything they touch is contaminated with germs, and in order to ease that fear, they repeatedly wash their hands. It is noted that these activities must interfere with daily function and quality of life before OCD is diagnosed.
The effects of OCD range from mild to severe. OCD can disrupt an individual's social life and relationships as well as their ability to work, make a living, or go to school.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder occurs equally in men and women, and it affects about 2.3% of the U.S. population ages 18-54. About 80% of individuals who develop OCD show signs of the disorder in childhood, although the disorder usually develops fully in adulthood. Also, OCD is more common among people of higher education, IQ, and socioeconomic status.
Though its course is chronic and usually lasts a lifetime, it is treatable with medication, behavioral therapy, and, in extremely rare cases, brain surgery. Although symptoms can be alleviated with medications, OCD is not curable.
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