Rothman Center for Pediatric Neuropsychiatry

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

OCD is characterized by the presence of recurring and unwanted thoughts, impulses, or images (obsessions) that cause anxiety, followed by repetitive behaviors done to reduce the anxiety (compulsions). The symptoms associated with OCD can cause significant impairment in daily functioning. On average, OCD develops either in early adolescents or early adulthood.

What are the causes of this condition?

Although the exact causes of OCD are not fully understood, research suggests that biological (e.g., genetics, areas of the brain involved with fear/anxiety) and environmental factors may play a role.

OCD Symptoms

OCD symptoms include distressing and unwanted thoughts, images, or impulses (obsessions) that cause anxiety, followed by behaviors aimed at reducing the anxiety (compulsions). The types of obsessions can vary, but common obsessions include the fear of dirt or contamination, fear of being harmed or harming others, or disturbing religious or sexual thoughts. Common compulsions include repetitive hand-washing, avoidance of touching objects, repeatedly checking things, and arranging things in a particular order. The obsessions and compulsions often interfere with daily life and create significant distress.


  • Recurring thoughts, images, or impulses, that cause distress and anxiety
  • Recognition that the thoughts are unreasonable
    • Individuals that do not recognize the obsessions as senseless are diagnosed as having OCD with poor insight


  • Activities repeated to reduce anxiety over an obsessions
  • The acts though intended to help are either excessively done or not related to the source of anxiety

OCD Treatment