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Clinical Definition of Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is defined as ‘a chronic and common condition often associated with marked anxiety and depression characterised by obsessions and compulsions’. The obsession relates to thoughts that are constant and disturbing to the person and the compulsion is a driving force that reinforces the idea to act out a certain behaviour, regardless of the effectiveness of this behaviour. It affects males and females equally and canstart in childhood or early adult life. These obsessions and compulsions are usually accompanied with thoughts of distress as the person is fearful of the misfortune or any other associated adversity that could occur if a specific pattern of behaviour is not followed.

A typical example of Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is that of repeated hand washing and the danger of contamination. The obsession can lead to the person repeating certain behaviours as a relief to prevent any misfortune, such as contamination,happening. Sadly, such relief is short-lived and the person’s anxiety level causesthe person to wash their hands repeatedly. In time, the person may develop a ritual for their behaviour that may extend to and interfere with other aspects of their life.When carrying out the ritual, if the person is disturbed, makes a mistake or does notcarry out the ritual in a set way, it may result in the procedure having to be started all over again. This reassures the person that the ritual has been carried out appropriately.This could result in the obsession interfering with other essential elements of the person’s life. If the level of anxiety in obsessive-compulsive disorder is great,it could lead to further associated psychiatric disorders, such as depression, eatingdisorders (owing to fear of contamination), alcohol or drug-related problems.

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