Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly known as OCD, is a form of anxiety disorder, characterised by obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions can be defined as being reoccurring and uncontrollable thoughts, whilst compulsions can be defined as behaviours that the patient feels compelled to do. Compulsions are usually performed to deal with the anxiety caused by the obsession. OCD may worsen during times of stress, but can seem a lot more manageable at other times. Obsessions and compulsions in OCD have a huge impact on the individual’s life, causing disruption, severed relationships, isolation and they can even impact physical health.

Whilst obsessions dominate their thoughts, obsessions do not reflect their personality as people with OCD do not usually act out their thoughts because they usually find them so distressing.

What are the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder?

The symptoms are classified as obsessions and compulsions.


  • Fear of contamination and germs
  • Having aggressive thoughts towards yourself or others
  • Fear of causing others harm
  • Need for symmetry (fearing that something bad will happen if everything is symmetrical)
  • Intrusive thoughts and images (e.g. violent, sexual, religious or blasphemous)


  • Rituals (e.g. washing continuously, arranging objects in a specific way or touching things in a particular order or at a certain time)
  • Correcting thoughts (e.g. counting to a certain number or repeating a word or phrase aloud or in your head)
  • Checking (e.g. doors are locked and lights are switched off)
  • Reassurance (constantly asking others to tell you that everything is alright)

What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder?

The exact cause of OCD is unknown, however, there are certain factors that can influence it such as brain structure and functioning (i.e. having dysfunctional beliefs), genetics, family history and environment. Although we are not fully sure about the causes of OCD, treatment can still be successful.

Can obsessive-compulsive disorder be prevented?

It is not possible to prevent obsessive-compulsive disorder, however, early diagnosis reduces the time a person suffers from this disorder.

What is the treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder?

The treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder is a combination of pharmacological treatments and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). The pharmacological treatments used include antidepressants, tranquilisers and sometimes beta-blockers to manage physical symptoms caused by anxiety. It has been shown that with ongoing treatment, which usually combines medication and CBT, long-term relief from symptoms can be attained.