OCD: What Is It?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety condition that plagues a person with unwanted thoughts, images or impulses—called obsessions—that are impossible to suppress, causing him great stress and worry. He develops repetitive, ritualized actions—compulsions—to alleviate the anxiety caused by these obsessions. These compulsions, which can be behaviors or mental acts like counting, are not connected in a realistic way with the threats they are designed to neutralize or prevent. Common obsessions include fear of contamination, fear of harm to himself or others, and fear that he might do something violent or terrible. Children with OCD may compulsively wash their hands, lock and relock doors a certain number of times, line up objects or touch parts of their bodies symmetrically in order to neutralize a fear and make themselves comfortable. They may also repeatedly ask questions and seek reassurance.