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Obsessive-compulsive disorder in adults: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, and diagnosis

Helen Blair Simpson, MD, PhD
Section Editor
Murray B Stein, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Richard Hermann, MD


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by recurrent intrusive thoughts, images, or urges (obsessions) that typically cause anxiety or distress, and by repetitive mental or behavioral acts (compulsions) that the individual feels driven to perform, either in relation to an obsession or according to rules that he or she believes must be applied rigidly or to achieve a sense of “completeness.”

OCD typically starts in childhood or adolescence, persists throughout a person’s life, and produces substantial impairment in functioning due to the severe and chronic nature of the illness.

The epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, and diagnosis of OCD are described here. Pharmacotherapy, psychotherapy, and deep brain stimulation for OCD are discussed separately. OCD in children and adolescents and OCD in pregnant and postpartum women are also discussed separately. (See "Pharmacotherapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder in adults" and "Psychotherapy for obsessive-compulsive disorder in adults" and "Deep brain stimulation for treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder" and "Obsessive-compulsive disorder in children and adolescents: Epidemiology, pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, course, assessment, and diagnosis" and "Obsessive-compulsive disorder in pregnant and postpartum women".)


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) among adults in the United States has an estimated 12-month prevalence of 1.2 percent and an estimated lifetime prevalence of 2.3 percent [1,2]. Females are affected at a slightly higher rate than males in adulthood, although males are more commonly affected in childhood [2,3].

Comorbidities — The most common psychiatric disorders found to co-occur in adults with OCD are as follows.

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Literature review current through: Dec 2017. | This topic last updated: Oct 17, 2017.
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