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What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?



OCD is characterised by recurrent obsessions or compulsions that are time consuming or cause significant distress or impairment.

Obsessions are persistent ideas, thoughts, images or impulses which are experienced by the sufferer as anxiety provoking or distressing. The sufferer has difficulty switching his train of thought onto another topic. It’s like when one plays a scratched CD on a stereo, the same phrase repeats over and over.

Common obsessions include:

  • thoughts of contamination (e.g. ‘Will I catch AIDS from shaking hands?’)
  • repeated doubts (e.g. ‘Did I leave the door unlocked, Did I turn off the light’)
  • need for orderliness (e.g. get distressed when pictures are crooked, objects are untidy)
  • aggressive impulses (e.g. thoughts of killing one’s child or hurting oneself)
  • sexual imagery

OCD sufferers usually try to ignore or suppress their worrying thoughts and impulses or to neutralize them with a compulsion.

Compulsions are observable, or covert, repetitive behaviours or mental acts which are performed to prevent or reduce the anxiety and distress of obsessions.
Compulsive behaviours include:

  • Checking
  • Washing
  • Ordering
  • Requesting or demanding reassurance from other people ( e.g. ‘Did I lock the door?’)

Compulsive mental acts include:

  • Praying
  • Counting
  • Repeating words silently

Medication and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

SSRIs are commonly prescribed for OCD as there is much evidence demonstrating their effectiveness and they are generally well tolerated by patients.

SSRIs used to treat OCD:

  • Fluoxetine
  • Paroxetine
  • Escitalopram
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Sertraline

American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Washington, Dc: American Psychiatric Press

Please note, it is important to consult a qualified mental health practitioner such as e.g. a psychologist or psychiatrist to confirm any diagnosis you think you might have. You must not rely on the information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. No assurance can be given that the information on this site will always include the most recent developments or research with respect to a particular topic.

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