Kearns, Megan Department of Psychiatry, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia.
Rothbaum, Barbara O. Department of Psychiatry, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia.
Last reviewed:March 2018
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An anxiety disorder defined by the presence of recurrent, intrusive thoughts (known as obsessions) or repetitive behaviors that a person feels driven to perform (known as compulsions). Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience their obsessions as distressing and time-consuming, and they typically recognize that their obsessions are excessive or irrational (Fig. 1). Compulsions are similarly time-consuming and often interfere with everyday life, but they are performed in order to alleviate distress caused by obsessions. The relationship between obsessions and compulsions begins as a generally functional one: obsessions increase anxiety or distress, and initially compulsions decrease or relieve anxiety or distress. Compulsions do not need to be overt actions, such as washing of hands or checking; they also can be thinking of certain words or images, such as a “good” number, or praying ritualistically. See also: Anxiety disorders; Emotion; Mental disorders; Stress (psychology)
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