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NHS Choices Condition

Content supplied by NHS Choices

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health condition that is usually associated with both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour. 


An obsession is defined as an unwanted thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters a person’s mind.   


A compulsion is defined as a repetitive behaviour or mental act that a person feels compelled to perform.

Unlike some other types of compulsive behaviour, such as an addiction to drugs or gambling, a person with OCD gets no pleasure from their compulsive behaviour. They feel that they need to carry out their compulsion to prevent their obsession becoming true. For example, a person who is obsessed with the fear that they will catch a serious disease may feel compelled to have a shower every time they use a public toilet 

How common is OCD? 

OCD is one of the most common mental health conditions. It is estimated that about 1-3% of adults and 2% of children and teenagers have OCD.

In men, OCD symptoms usually begin during adolescence. In women they generally start later, usually in the early 20s. OCD symptoms can begin at any time, including childhood.

The symptoms of OCD can range from mild to severe. For example, some people with OCD will spend around one hour a day engaged in obsessive compulsive thinking and behaviour, while for others, the symptoms completely dominate their life.

The causes of OCD are unknown. 


If left untreated, the symptoms of OCD may not improve and, in some cases, they will get worse.

With treatment, the prognosis for OCD is good, and some people will achieve a complete cure. Even if a complete cure is not achievable, treatment can reduce the severity of a person’s symptoms and help them to achieve a good quality of life.

A form of psychotherapy, known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can be very successful in helping many people with OCD.

view information about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder on www.nhs.co.uk »

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