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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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Updated June 19, 2014

Definition:

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is an anxiety disorder that is sometimes mistaken for a phobia. OCD causes sufferers to fixate on one or more anxiety-producing thoughts. For example, someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder might worry that she will develop an incurable disease, or become afraid that he will cheat on his spouse.

Although OCD fears are often similar to phobias, there are differences between the two disorders. Those suffering from a phobia generally do not think much about the object of fear unless they have to confront it. By contrast, those with OCD often report intrusive thoughts that appear even when they are calm and relaxed.

In addition, many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder develop rituals to help themselves manage their fears. These rituals, known as compulsions, are often related to the obsessive thought. For example, someone who is obsessed with contamination may wash her hands repeatedly. In many cases, the sufferer feels that if the ritual is not performed a certain way, such as 20 seconds of hand-washing, it is null and void, and must be repeated.

The differences between phobias and OCD can be difficult to spot, and many people suffer from both conditions. Therefore, it is important that professional guidance be sought. With proper treatment, both phobias and OCD can be successfully managed.

Also Known As: OCD
Alternate Spellings: obsessive compulsive disorder
Examples:
Jean became extremely worried that she would harm her child, despite being a warm and loving mother. No matter how much she tried to ignore it, the anxiety continued to grow, often coming to her in the middle of the night. After she began checking her child's crib every hour, Jean's therapist diagnosed her with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
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