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We all have compulsive ideas for ourselves sometimes, such as repeatedly checking that the keys are with or the stove is turned off. Appreciating cleanliness or order is not a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder. But if obsessions or compulsions are intrusive and prevent you from living your life, it can be classified as a mental disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder, which manifests itself as obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. Obsessive thoughts are recurring and intrusive thoughts that feel unpleasant and extraneous. Compulsive actions are repetitive behaviors that aim to prevent and alleviate the anxiety associated with obsessive thoughts.

The most common obsessions include fear of getting dirty, fear of being infected and need for symmetry. You may be constantly afraid of getting dirty or of contracting an infectious disease. A symmetry-dependent person suffers from anxiety unless things are in a certain order or happen in a certain order. Obsessive thoughts may also manifest as a continuous concern over personal health, as a compulsive need for repeating certain words, or as distressing sexual images or thoughts, which enter the mind uninvited.

The most typical compulsive acts are checking and washing. For example, if you suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may check that the coffee maker is switched off dozens of times. Other typical compulsive acts include washing hands repeatedly or otherwise washing oneself uncommonly often. Sometimes the washing involves long and complicated rituals, which must be performed in the correct order. An obsessive-compulsive person believes that something bad will happen if he/she does not perform his/her compulsive acts. 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is relatively common: 2.5–3 percent of people suffer from OCD. The syndrome often begins before puberty or in early adulthood. Obsessive-compulsive disorder usually occurs along with some other anxiety disorder or depression.

Treatment of ob­ses­sive-com­pul­sive disorder

A healthy life style and regular exercise can reduce anxiety and the need for control. Relaxation exercises can also be helpful. Life stress often has a negative effect on symptoms.

Contact your own health center or school health care for an assessment if you have difficulty coping with everyday life due to obsessive thoughts or compulsive actions. Many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder hesitate to seek help. Reasons for this may be lack of information about available treatments or feelings of shame that are associated with the symptoms for no reason.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be successfully treated with psychotherapy or medication. In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) you can learn to keep the symptoms under control. Antidepressant drugs significantly relieve symptoms.

Origins of obsessive-compulsive disorder

Research suggests that hereditary factors influence the onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The fact that the symptoms break out and intensify is often linked to life changes and stress.

Fact check: Kristian Wahlbeck, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry