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What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

OCD symptoms can occur in people of all ages. It can start at any time from preschool age to adulthood (usually by age 40). In the United States, 1 out of 50 adults has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and twice that many have had it at some point in their lives. OCD is a medical brain disorder that causes problems in information processing. In OCD, it is as though the brain gets stuck on a particular thought or urge and just can't let go. People with OCD often say the symptoms feel like a case of mental hiccups that won't go away.

To better understand the medical condition, we'll break it down into its two components:

1. Obsessions: Obsessions are thoughts, images, or impulses that occur over and over again and feel out of your control. The person does not want to have these ideas, finds them disturbing and intrusive, and usually recognizes that they don't really make sense. People with OCD may worry excessively about dirt and germs and be obsessed with the idea that they are contaminated or may contaminate others. Or, they may worry excessively about burning down their houses and may be obsessed with the idea that they left the stove or iron on.

2.Compulsions: To make their obsessions go away people with OCD typically perform compulsions. Compulsions are acts the person performs over and over again, often according to certain "rules." People with an obsession about contamination may wash constantly to the point that their hands become raw and inflamed. A person may repeatedly check that he or she has turned off the stove or iron because of an obsessive fear of burning the house down. OCD compulsions do not give the person pleasure. Rather, the rituals are performed to obtain relief from the discomfort caused by the obsessions.

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