Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a serious, yet treatable disorder that often occurs with depression and anxiety disorders. If not treated properly, it may become disabling.

OCD has a neurobiological basis, although research has not identified any definitive causes. But researchers have been able to demonstrate that certain areas of the brain function differently in people with OCD, and that symptoms may involve communication errors among different parts of the brain.

This disorder is most likely the result of a combination of neurobiological, genetic, behavioral, and cognitive factors that trigger the disorder in a specific person at a particular point in time.

Environmental factors may also contribute to the onset of OCD, including traumatic brain injuries and a severe bacterial or viral infection such as strep throat or the flu. Studies suggest that infection doesn’t cause OCD, but it triggers symptoms in children who are genetically predisposed to it.

Most people who seek treatment experience significant improvement and enjoy an improved quality of life. It is important to work closely with a health care professional to determine the best option.

Help for OCD

Therapy is usually a series of weekly one-hour office visits. You will be assigned exposure and response prevention (ERP) homework exercises specifically tailored to your symptoms. Complete your homework every week to make good progress and see the best results.

Medication may be prescribed when the anxiety associated with OCD is severe, or if you have other conditions along with OCD. When a more intensive level of care is necessary, options include intensive outpatient, day program, partial hospital, and residential programs.

If you’re concerned about symptoms of OCD, make an appointment with a therapist or your doctor. Then complete the self-test on this site. Your responses will help your therapist or doctor make a proper diagnosis and determine an effective treatment plan.

Get Help

Be prepared to make the most of each office visit. Follow the tips below to make sure your concerns are addressed and your questions are answered.

  • Write your questions ahead of time and bring them with you.
  • Take notes during the appointment to make sure you understand what you are hearing.
  • Ask for clarification whenever necessary.
  • Ask questions and learn where you can find more information. You have a right to know.
  • Be forthcoming and persistent about issues that concern you. Trust your instincts in your search to find a compatible doctor or therapist.

During Treatment

  • Keep your scheduled appointments.
  • Be honest and open with your doctor or therapist.
  • Do all homework assigned to you as part of the therapy to the best of your ability.
  • Give honest feedback on how the treatment is working.
  • Call between appointments if you have questions about treatment, experience unexpected levels of distress, or have concerns about your safety.

Questions for the Therapist or Doctor

Before Making an Appointment

  • What is your basic approach to treating OCD?
  • How much experience do you have treating OCD?
  • How often are my appointments?
  • How long is treatment likely to last?
  • What is your success rate with OCD?
  • How do you define success?
  • Are you a provider for my insurance?
  • Is payment expected at the time of my treatment?

At the First Session

  • How did you diagnose that I have OCD?
  • What if I also have anxiety disorders, depression, or other conditions?
  • What causes OCD? Does it run in families?
  • What kind of treatment approach do you think is best for my problem?
  • What is CBT? What is ERP? How effective are they for OCD?
  • What are the side effects of medication?
  • What if the medication doesn’t work?
  • When can I expect to see results?
  • Is a combination of medication and CBT best for me?
  • How long do you expect treatment to last?
  • What if I have a relapse?

Successful treatment often includes a combination of behavior therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or exposure therapy, and medication. Learn more about treating OCD and anxiety disorders.

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