What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Find out what the diagnosis of OCD really entails and how to treat it.

Sanaz Majd, MD
4-minute read
Episode #96
  • Tourette Syndrome (a disorder characterized by sound and movement tics with onset in childhood)

  • Depression

  • Other anxiety disorders

See Also: What Is Panic Disorder?


Treatment of OCD

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for OCD. It tends to be a life-long battle for most since unlike other types of anxiety disorders, OCD tends to be more resistant to treatment.  Up to two-thirds of patients will have improvement with treatment over time, but full remission occurs in less than 20%. 

There are two ways to treat OCD.  First, there are several groups of medications that increase the brain chemical called “serotonin,” and improve symptoms in about half of all people with OCD.  Unfortunately, not all respond to the medicines. And of those who do respond, symptoms are improved, not eradicated.  Here are the two main groups of medicines prescribed:

  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s):  This group of drugs includes the generic fluoxetine, sertraline, and paroxetine.  Studies show that they do improve OCD when compared to placebo, and none is really any better than the other at doing so.  Slow transitioning to a higher dose is often necessary to obtain better results if the medication is tolerated well by the patient.

  • Clomipramine:  This medication also increases serotonin in the brain, along with another chemical called “norepinephrine.”  However, even though it is thought to be just as effective as the SSRI’s, it’s often not as well-tolerated because it can cause dry mouth, constipation, sedation, and urinary difficulties.. So it is therefore no longer the first choice for many patients.

Patients with OCD can also be treated with a type of psychotherapy called “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy” (CBT), in which they are repetitively exposed to their obsessions but their compulsions are prevented.  Studies show that CBT treatment can be effective and is often first-line for those with non-severe OCD that is not associated with any other psychiatric diagnoses previously mentioned.  However, for other patients with OCD, both medication and CBT may be necessary to see the greatest improvement.

Thankfully, most of us who have been accused of “being OCD,” really don’t suffer from it at all.  A bit of order and cleanliness doesn’t cause any harm for most of us. And some actually make a career out of it – just look at the Domestic CEO! But when it turns into an obsession that provokes stressful compulsions, the need for order can become a serious illness.

If you think you may suffer from OCD, please don’t be shy to discuss this with your doctor.  As for Jack’s character, well, just as he asked “Is this as good as it gets?” even though his OCD didn’t get any better, life certainly did.

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Sad woman image courtesy of Shutterstock.


Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.