Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Battling persistent unwanted thoughts and senselessly repeated actions

We all use the words "obsessive" and "compulsive" loosely to describe people who worry too much, spend too much time on details, or become deeply immersed in a single activity to the exclusion of everything else. And many of us have superstitious habits or perfectionistic scruples that we know are unreasonable.

What psychiatrists mean by obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is more specific (see box below). "Obsession" comes from a Latin root meaning "besieged," and that is how people with OCD usually feel. Their obsessions are repetitious thoughts, urges, and images fueled by doubt, fears, a need for symmetry and order, or aggressive and sexual impulses. The most common obsessions involve cleanliness and fear of disease. Another source of obsessions is doubt that something has been done correctly or safely.

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