It is thought that about 1–2% of the population in the UK may have OCD and it can affect people of any age, from young children to older adults.


What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

OCD is name given to a condition in which a person has obsessions and /or compulsions, but usually both. Most people with OCD tend to follow a set pattern of thought and behaviour;


Obsession - a thought, image or impulse that keeps coming into a person’s mind and is difficult to get rid of.  These fears or concerns can be irrational, constant and overwhelming.  The obsession provokes a feeling of intense anxiety and distress.


Compulsion – a feeling a person has that they must repeat physical or mental acts. Usually people do this in response to an obsessive thought with the intention or reducing anxiety or distress.

The compulsive behaviour brings temporary relief from anxiety, but the obsession and anxiety soon return, causing the pattern or cycle to begin again.



There are lots of different obsessions that can affect someone with OCD, a few examples are:

  • being afraid of contamination by dirt or germs
  • seeing disturbing pictures in your mind
  • fear of hurting yourself or someone else
  • worrying that your home is not safe, such as an electrical appliance left on
  • wanting to have things in a particular order or arrangement.

There are lots of different compulsions that can affect someone with OCD (sometimes called ‘rituals’), a few examples are;

  • excessive washing and cleaning
  • checking things repeatedly (for example, that a door is locked at least three times before you leave the house)
  • keeping objects that other people might throw away (called ‘hoarding’)
  • repeating words or numbers in a pattern.


How OCD may affect you?

Almost everyone has a disturbing thought or checks more than once they have locked the door. With OCD, the thoughts and feelings of discomfort can take over. 

People with OCD may; 

  • realise that their thoughts and actions are irrational or excessive, but they will not be able to help themselves from thinking the obsessive thoughts and carrying out compulsions
  • spend much of their day carrying out various compulsions and be unable to get out of the house or manage normal activities
  • appear to be coping with day-to-day life while still suffering a huge amount of distress from obsessive thoughts
  • carry out their rituals and compulsions in secret or make excuses about why they are doing something
  • not realise that repeated thoughts, such as a fear of harming other people, are common symptoms of OCD and do not mean that they will carry out these thoughts.


There are many things we can do to reduce the impact of your OCD to a more manageable level.  We may use a combination of the following to help you in recovery:

Self help

To help you develop an awareness and insight into your condition:


The most appropriate medication to meet your needs will be discussed with you. 

Psychological treatment

Psychological therapies are used to help develop effective coping strategies and solving skills.  Relevant treatment options will be discussed with you.


Further information

See the ‘for patients and carers’ section of the trust website: for information on conditions, care and treatment and support organisations.

Adapted from ‘Understanding NICE guidance – information for people with OCD and BDD, their families and carers and the public’









Date last updated:

12 / 2017

Archive date:

12 / 2020