OCD is actually one of the anxiety disorders. It is more common than people might realize, currently affecting 1 in 50 people, and perhaps double that amount have had it at some point in their lives. OCD was formerly considered untreatable, but with the advent of more contemporary approaches to therapy, and behavioral therapy in particular, those who suffer OCD are now able to achieve lasting relief, with the ability to manage their symptoms.
Each person with OCD presents with their own combination of symptoms. Obsessions may occur in combination with compulsions, or without, as in "pure O." Obsessions are unwanted, or intrusive thoughts or media that are distressing and extremely difficult to suppress or eliminate. They often consist of themes, such as the fear of having made a mistake, of having hurt or contaminated someone, of having touched something that is contaminated, and other thoughts or media that make one feel worried, upset or anxious. These thoughts are recognized as unrealistic or irrational, and perhaps even bizarre, yet they persist as the person dwells on them. Some people liken them to mental hiccups, as the brain repeats these thoughts over and over, like a broken record. OCD has often been thought of as the "doubting disease," referring to the self-doubt that takes hold, causing the person to seek reassurance.
One form of reassurance may come in the form of compulsions. Compulsions are unwanted, repetitive behaviors or rituals that are performed in order to reduce anxiety. They are disruptive to the flow of a person's life, and can be quite time consuming. Although the person typically recognizes these behaviors, such as checking, washing, or hoarding, as being excessive, he or she feel compelled to engage in them. Resisting or overcoming these behaviors is extremely difficult. The behaviors are intended to prevent something bad from happening (illness, danger, etc.), but they are out of proportion, unnecessary, or essentially meaningless.
OCD occurs on a spectrum from mild to severe, and moderate to severe expressions are quite disabling if left untreated. Even mild forms are irritating to the person and interfere with one's peace of mind and comfort. In addition to the embarrassment or shame a person may feel as a result, symptoms of OCD can impose significant limitations on a person's range of activities or productivity, at work, school or even in the home. For these reasons, quality of life is negatively impacted.
What many OCD sufferers don't realize is that this problem can be well managed. With proper treatment, a high proportion of those with OCD can minimize their symptoms, and regain control of their lives. Behavioral therapy has been proven to be the most effective form of psychotherapy to help people in both significantly reducing symptoms of OCD and achieving enduring relief.