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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

People with OCD experience disturbing thoughts or images called obsessions; the rituals performed to try to prevent or dispel them are compulsions. People with OCD feel an urgent need to perform the rituals, but doing so brings no pleasure - only temporary relief from the discomfort caused by the obsession.

A lot of healthy people may having some of the symptoms of OCD, such as checking the stove several times before leaving the house. But the disorder is diagnosed only when such activities consume at least an hour a day, are very distressing, and interfere with daily life.

Most adults with this condition recognize that what they're doing is senseless, but they can't stop it. Some people, though, particularly children with OCD, may not realize that their behavior is out of the ordinary.

OCD affects men and women in approximately equal numbers and afflicts roughly 1 in 50 people. It can appear in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, but on the average it first shows up in the teens or early adulthood. A third of adults with OCD experiences their first symptoms as children. The course of the disease is variable; symptoms may come and go, may ease over time or grow progressively worse. Evidence suggests OCD might run in families. Medications and behavioral treatments can benefit people with OCD; a combination of the two is often helpful.

Contact your primary care provider to determine whether OCD symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder, another medical condition, or a combination of both.

A mental health professional can help with anxiety disorders; at UMass Amherst, call the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, (413) 545-2337, or the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, (413) 545-0350.