Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

It’s not unusual for people to say they’re ‘a bit OCD’ when they check they’ve locked the front door, or that they turned appliances off before they go on holiday. However, there is an important distinction between these behaviours and OCD, which can cause significant disruption to sufferer’s lives. OCD is a psychological disorder which affect about 1.2% of the population (ocduk.org), and is characterised by obsessions and compulsions, which cause great distress and are very time consuming.

Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts or images, which cannot be controlled by the individual. They are not just excessive worries about actual problems.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviours carried out by the individual to try to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsessive thought.

However, as illustrated by the figure below, these symptoms cause the distress to continue in a cycle of OCD.


There are 4 main types of OCD symptoms: washers, orderers, checkers, and hoarders. These factors are stable across time (Mataix-Cole et al, 2002) and are thought to be associated with different genes.

Treatments for OCD:

Pharmacological treatments for OCD include SSRIs (a type of antidepressant) and antipsychotics. Behavioural treatments include exposure therapy, and response prevention – to stop sufferers from performing the compulsive rituals. Foa et al (2005) found that a combination of these therapies was the most effective treatment.

Thank you for reading, and let me know if you would like a more in-depth post about the genes and brain areas implicated in OCD.

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