Facts About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. and
the National Institute of Mental Health
26 Nov 2005

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or rituals (compulsions), which they believe they cannot control. Rituals such as handwashing, counting, checking or cleaning are often performed in hopes of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these rituals, however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety. Left untreated, obsessions and the need to perform rituals can take over a person's life. OCD is often a chronic, relapsing illness.

How Common Is OCD?

  • About 2.3 to 2.4 percent of the U.S. population has OCD in a given year, according to government statistics. That translates into 1 in 43 Americans or about 6.3 million total people in any given year.
  • OCD typically begins during adolescence or early childhood; at least one-third of the cases of adult OCD began in childhood.
  • OCD affects both men and women about equally.
  • OCD cost the United States $8.4 billion in 1990 in social and economic losses, nearly 6 percent of the total mental health bill of $148 billion.

Can People With OCD Also Have Other Physical or Emotional Illnesses?

OCD sometimes is accompanied by depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or other anxiety disorders. When a person also has other disorders, OCD is often more difficult to diagnose and treat. Symptoms of OCD can coexist with -- and may even be part of -- a spectrum of neurological disorders, such as Tourette's syndrome. Appropriate diagnosis and treatment of other disorders are important to successful treatment of OCD.




Last updated: 29 Mar 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Mar 2015
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