Information courtesy of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is familiar to us through the character of Adrian Monk, who faces a daily struggle with his obsessions and compulsions. Although a fictional character, Monk's plight is a reality for nearly 6 million Americans who suffer from OCD. These obsessions are recurring thoughts or impulses that are intrusive or inappropriate and cause the sufferer anxiety. Some common obsessions are:

  • Thoughts about contamination. For example, when an individual fears coming into contact with dirt, germs or "unclean" objects.
  • Persistent doubts. For example, whether or not one has turned off the iron or stove, locked the door or turned on the answering machine.
  • Extreme need for orderliness.
  • Aggressive impulses or thoughts. For example, being overcome with the urge to yell 'fire' in a crowded theater.

Only when the OCD sufferer performs their obsessive rituals will their anxiety subside. But relief is only temporary and so these rituals must be incorporated into the person's daily routine. Some of the most common compulsions are:

  • Cleaning - Sufferers concerned with germs and contamination tend to clean constantly, either repeatedly washing their hands, showering, or constantly cleaning their home.
  • Checking - Individuals may check several or even hundreds of times to make sure that stoves are turned off and doors are locked.
  • Repeating - Some repeat a name, phrase or action over and over.
  • Slowness - Some individuals may take an excessively slow and methodical approach to daily activities. They may spend hours organizing and arranging objects.
  • Hoarding - Hoarders are unable to throw away useless items, such as old newspapers, junk mail, even broken appliances. Sometimes the hoarding reaches the point that whole rooms are filled with saved items.


In order for OCD to be diagnosed, the obsessions and/or compulsions must take up a considerable amount of the sufferers' time. Onset of OCD is usually gradual and most often begins in adolescence or early adulthood. Unlike adults, children with OCD do not realize that their obsessions and compulsions, which are most often of the washing, checking, and ordering variety, are excessive.

Individuals with OCD tend to hide their problem rather than seek help, delaying therapy as they get better at hiding their condition. Unfortunately, this delay reduces the chances of successful treatment since obsessive-compulsive habits become more ingrained over time.

The good news is that great strides have been made in the treatment of OCD, allowing individuals to get their symptoms under control or even eliminate them. In addition to medication, behavior and family therapy achieve the greatest results. The Anxiety Disorders Association of America (www.adaa.org) maintains a list of therapists to help sufferers find specialists near their home, as well as local self-help groups for support.

If you suspect you may be suffering from OCD, click here to fill out a questionnaire that you can print and present to a health care professional at your first visit.

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