Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders

Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders


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Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), body dysmorphic disorder, hoarding disorder, trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), excoriation (skin-picking) disorder, substance/medication-induced obsessive-compulsive and related disorder, obsessive-compulsive and related disorder due to another medical condition, and other specified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder and unspecified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder (e.g., body-focused repetitive behavior disorder, obsessional jealousy).

OCD is characterized by the presence of obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced as intrusive and unwanted, whereas compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that an individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. Some other obsessive-compulsive and related disorders are also characterized by preoccupations and by repetitive behaviors or mental acts in response to the preoccupations. Other obsessive-compulsive and related disorders are characterized primarily by recurrent body-focused repetitive behaviors (e.g., hair pulling, skin picking) and repeated attempts to decrease or stop the behaviors.

The inclusion of a chapter on obsessive-compulsive and related disorders in DSM-5 reflects the increasing evidence of these disorders’ relatedness to one another in terms of a range of diagnostic validators as well as the clinical utility of grouping these disorders in the same chapter. Clinicians are encouraged to screen for these conditions in individuals who present with one of them and be aware of overlaps between these conditions. At the same time, there are important differences in diagnostic validators and treatment approaches across these disorders. Moreover, there are close relationships between the anxiety disorders and some of the obsessive-compulsive and related disorders (e.g., OCD), which is reflected in the sequence of DSM-5 chapters, with obsessive-compulsive and related disorders following anxiety disorders.

The obsessive-compulsive and related disorders differ from developmentally normative preoccupations and rituals by being excessive or persisting beyond developmentally appropriate periods. The distinction between the presence of subclinical symptoms and a clinical disorder requires assessment of a number of factors, including the individual’s level of distress and impairment in functioning.

The chapter begins with OCD. It then covers body dysmorphic disorder and hoarding disorder, which are characterized by cognitive symptoms such as perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance or the perceived need to save possessions, respectively. The chapter then covers trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) and excoriation (skin-picking) disorder, which are characterized by recurrent body-focused repetitive behaviors. Finally, it covers substance/medication-induced obsessive-compulsive and related disorder, obsessive-compulsive and related disorder due to another medical condition, and other specified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder and unspecified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder.

While the specific content of obsessions and compulsions varies among individuals, certain symptom dimensions are common in OCD, including those of cleaning (contamination obsessions and cleaning compulsions); symmetry (symmetry obsessions and repeating, ordering, and counting compulsions); forbidden or taboo thoughts (e.g., aggressive, sexual, and religious obsessions and related compulsions); and harm (e.g., fears of harm to oneself or others and related checking compulsions). The tic-related specifier of OCD is used when an individual has a current or past history of a tic disorder.

Body dysmorphic disorder is characterized by preoccupation with one or more perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance that are not observable or appear only slight to others, and by repetitive behaviors (e.g., mirror checking, excessive grooming, skin picking, or reassurance seeking) or mental acts (e.g., comparing one’s appearance with that of other people) in response to the appearance concerns. The appearance preoccupations are not better explained by concerns with body fat or weight in an individual with an eating disorder. Muscle dysmorphia is a form of body dysmorphic disorder that is characterized by the belief that one’s body build is too small or is insufficiently muscular.

Hoarding disorder is characterized by persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value, as a result of a strong perceived need to save the items and to distress associated with discarding them. Hoarding disorder differs from normal collecting. For example, symptoms of hoarding disorder result in the accumulation of a large number of possessions that congest and clutter active living areas to the extent that their intended use is substantially compromised. The excessive acquisition form of hoarding disorder, which characterizes most but not all individuals with hoarding disorder, consists of excessive collecting, buying, or stealing of items that are not needed or for which there is no available space.

Trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder) is characterized by recurrent pulling out of one’s hair resulting in hair loss, and repeated attempts to decrease or stop hair pulling. Excoriation (skin-picking) disorder is characterized by recurrent picking of one’s skin resulting in skin lesions and repeated attempts to decrease or stop skin picking. The body-focused repetitive behaviors that characterize these two disorders are not triggered by obsessions or preoccupations; however, they may be preceded or accompanied by various emotional states, such as feelings of anxiety or boredom. They may also be preceded by an increasing sense of tension or may lead to gratification, pleasure, or a sense of relief when the hair is pulled out or the skin is picked. Individuals with these disorders may have varying degrees of conscious awareness of the behavior while engaging in it, with some individuals displaying more focused attention on the behavior (with preceding tension and subsequent relief) and other individuals displaying more automatic behavior (with the behaviors seeming to occur without full awareness).

Substance/medication-induced obsessive-compulsive and related disorder consists of symptoms that are due to substance intoxication or withdrawal or to a medication. Obsessive-compulsive and related disorder due to another medical conditioninvolves symptoms characteristic of obsessive-compulsive and related disorders that are the direct pathophysiological consequence of a medical disorder. Other specified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder and unspecified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder consist of symptoms that do not meet criteria for a specific obsessive-compulsive and related disorder because of atypical presentation or uncertain etiology; these categories are also used for other specific syndromes that are not listed in Section II and when insufficient information is available to diagnose the presentation as another obsessive-compulsive and related disorder. Examples of specific syndromes not listed in Section II, and therefore diagnosed as other specified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder or as unspecified obsessive-compulsive and related disorder include body-focused repetitive behavior disorder and obsessional jealousy.

Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders that have a cognitive component have insight as the basis for specifiers; in each of these disorders, insight ranges from “good or fair insight” to “poor insight” to “absent insight/delusional beliefs” with respect to disorder-related beliefs. For individuals whose obsessive-compulsive and related disorder symptoms warrant the “with absent insight/delusional beliefs” specifier, these symptoms should not be diagnosed as a psychotic disorder.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Diagnostic Criteria

300.3 ( F42.2 F42 )

A. Presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both:

· Obsessions are defined by (1) and (2):

1. Recurrent and persistent thoughts, urges, or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and unwanted, and that in most individuals cause marked anxiety or distress.

2. The individual attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, urges, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action (i.e., by performing a compulsion).

. Compulsions are defined by (1) and (2):

1. Repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly.

2. The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing anxiety or distress, or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent, or are clearly excessive.

· Note: Young children may not be able to articulate the aims of these behaviors or mental acts.

B. The obsessions or compulsions are time-consuming (e.g., take more than 1 hour per day) or cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

C. The obsessive-compulsive symptoms are not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or another medical condition.

D. The disturbance is not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., excessive worries, as in generalized anxiety disorder; preoccupation with appearance, as in body dysmorphic disorder; difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, as in hoarding disorder; hair pulling, as in trichotillomania [hair-pulling disorder]; skin picking, as in excoriation [skin-picking] disorder; stereotypies, as in stereotypic movement disorder; ritualized eating behavior, as in eating disorders; preoccupation with substances or gambling, as in substance-related and addictive disorders; preoccupation with having an illness, as in illness anxiety disorder; sexual urges or fantasies, as in paraphilic disorders; impulses, as in disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders; guilty ruminations, as in major depressive disorder; thought insertion or delusional preoccupations, as in schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders; or repetitive patterns of behavior, as in autism spectrum disorder).

Specify if:

· With good or fair insight: The individual recognizes that obsessive-compulsive disorder beliefs are definitely or probably not true or that they may or may not be true.

· With poor insight: The individual thinks obsessive-compulsive disorder beliefs are probably true.

· With absent insight/delusional beliefs: The individual is completely convinced that obsessive-compulsive disorder beliefs are true.

Specify if:

· Tic-related: The individual has a current or past history of a tic disorder.


Many individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have dysfunctional beliefs. These beliefs can include an inflated sense of responsibility and the tendency to overestimate threat; perfectionism and intolerance of uncertainty; and over-importance of thoughts (e.g., believing that having a forbidden thought is as bad as acting on it) and the need to control thoughts(Obsessive Compulsive Cognitions Work Group 2005).

Individuals with OCD vary in the degree of insight they have about the accuracy of the beliefs that underlie their obsessive-compulsive symptoms(Foa et al. 1995Phillips et al. 2012). Many individuals have good or fair insight (e.g., the individual believes that the house definitely will not, probably will not, or may or may not burn down if the stove is not checked 30 times). Some have poor insight (e.g., the individual believes that the house will probably burn down if the stove is not checked 30 times), and a few (4% or less) have absent insight/delusional beliefs (e.g., the individual is convinced that the house will burn down if the stove is not checked 30 times). Insight can vary within an individual over the course of the illness. Poorer insight has been linked to worse long-term outcome.

Up to 30% of individuals with OCD have a lifetime tic disorder. This is most common in males with onset of OCD in childhood. These individuals tend to differ from those without a history of tic disorders in the themes of their OCD symptoms, comorbidity, course, and pattern of familial transmission(Leckman et al. 2010).

Diagnostic Features

The characteristic symptoms of OCD are the presence of obsessions and compulsions (Criterion A). Obsessions are repetitive and persistent thoughts (e.g., of contamination), images (e.g., of violent or horrific scenes), or urges (e.g., to stab someone). Importantly, obsessions are not pleasurable or experienced as voluntary: they are intrusive and unwanted and cause marked distress or anxiety in most individuals. The individual attempts to ignore or suppress these obsessions (e.g., avoiding triggers or using thought suppression) or to neutralize them with another thought or action (e.g., performing a compulsion). Compulsions (or rituals) are repetitive behaviors (e.g., washing, checking) or mental acts (e.g., counting, repeating words silently) that the individual feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. Most individuals with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions(Foa et al. 1995). Compulsions are typically performed in response to an obsession (e.g., thoughts of contamination leading to washing rituals or that something is incorrect leading to repeating rituals until it feels “just right”). The aim is to reduce the distress triggered by obsessions or to prevent a feared event (e.g., becoming ill). However, these compulsions either are not connected in a realistic way to the feared event (e.g., arranging items symmetrically to prevent harm to a loved one) or are clearly excessive (e.g., showering for hours each day). Compulsions are not done for pleasure, although some individuals experience relief from anxiety or distress.

Criterion B emphasizes that obsessions and compulsions must be time-consuming (e.g., more than 1 hour per day) or cause clinically significant distress or impairment to warrant a diagnosis of OCD. This criterion helps to distinguish the disorder from the occasional intrusive thoughts or repetitive behaviors that are common in the general population (e.g., double-checking that a door is locked). The frequency and severity of obsessions and compulsions vary across individuals with OCD (e.g., some have mild to moderate symptoms, spending 1–3 hours per day obsessing or doing compulsions, whereas others have nearly constant intrusive thoughts or compulsions that can be incapacitating).

Associated Features Supporting Diagnosis

The specific content of obsessions and compulsions varies between individuals. However, certain themes, or dimensions, are common, including those of cleaning (contamination obsessions and cleaning compulsions); symmetry (symmetry obsessions and repeating, ordering, and counting compulsions); forbidden or taboo thoughts (e.g., aggressive, sexual, or religious obsessions and related compulsions); and harm (e.g., fears of harm to oneself or others and checking compulsions). Some individuals also have difficulties discarding and accumulate (hoard) objects as a consequence of typical obsessions and compulsions, such as fears of harming others(Matsunaga et al. 2010Pertusa et al. 2010). These themes occur across different cultures, are relatively consistent over time in adults with the disorder, and may be associated with different neural substrates(Leckman et al. 2010). Importantly, individuals often have symptoms in more than one dimension.

Individuals with OCD experience a range of affective responses when confronted with situations that trigger obsessions and compulsions. For example, many individuals experience marked anxiety that can include recurrent panic attacks. Others report strong feelings of disgust. While performing compulsions, some individuals report a distressing sense of “incompleteness” or uneasiness until things look, feel, or sound “just right.”

It is common for individuals with the disorder to avoid people, places, and things that trigger obsessions and compulsions. For example, individuals with contamination concerns might avoid public situations (e.g., restaurants, public restrooms) to reduce exposure to feared contaminants; individuals with intrusive thoughts about causing harm might avoid social interactions.


The 12-month prevalence of OCD in the United States is 1.2%(Kessler et al. 2005Ruscio et al. 2010), with a similar prevalence internationally (1.1%–1.8%)(Weissman et al. 1994). Females are affected at a slightly higher rate than males in adulthood, although males are more commonly affected in childhood(Ruscio et al. 2010Weissman et al. 1994).

Development and Course

In the United States, the mean age at onset of OCD is 19.5 years, and 25% of cases start by age 14 years(Kessler et al. 2005;Ruscio et al. 2010). Onset after age 35 years is unusual but does occur. Males have an earlier age at onset than females: nearly 25% of males have onset before age 10 years(Ruscio et al. 2010). The onset of symptoms is typically gradual; however, acute onset has also been reported.

If OCD is untreated, the course is usually chronic, often with waxing and waning symptoms(Ravizza et al. 1997Skoog and Skoog 1999). Some individuals have an episodic course, and a minority have a deteriorating course. Without treatment, remission rates in adults are low (e.g., 20% for those reevaluated 40 years later)(Skoog and Skoog 1999). Onset in childhood or adolescence can lead to a lifetime of OCD. However, 40% of individuals with onset of OCD in childhood or adolescence may experience remission by early adulthood(Stewart et al. 2004). The course of OCD is often complicated by the co-occurrence of other disorders (see section “Comorbidity” for this disorder).

Compulsions are more easily diagnosed in children than obsessions are because compulsions are observable. However, most children have both obsessions and compulsions (as do most adults). The pattern of symptoms in adults can be stable over time, but it is more variable in children(Mataix-Cols et al. 2002Rettew et al. 1992Swedo et al. 1989). Some differences in the content of obsessions and compulsions have been reported when children and adolescent samples have been compared with adult samples(Geller et al. 2001Kalra and Swedo 2009). These differences likely reflect content appropriate to different developmental stages (e.g., higher rates of sexual and religious obsessions in adolescents than in children; higher rates of harm obsessions [e.g., fears of catastrophic events, such as death or illness to self or loved ones] in children and adolescents than in adults).

Risk and Prognostic Factors


Greater internalizing symptoms, higher negative emotionality, and behavioral inhibition in childhood are possible temperamental risk factors(Coles et al. 2006Grisham et al. 2011).


Physical and sexual abuse in childhood and other stressful or traumatic events have been associated with an increased risk for developing OCD(Grisham et al. 2011). Some children may develop the sudden onset of obsessive-compulsive symptoms, which has been associated with different environmental factors, including various infectious agents and a post-infectious autoimmune syndrome(Singer et al. 2012Swedo et al. 2004).

Genetic and physiological

The rate of OCD among first-degree relatives of adults with OCD is approximately two times that among first-degree relatives of those without the disorder; however, among first-degree relatives of individuals with onset of OCD in childhood or adolescence, the rate is increased 10-fold(Pauls 2010). Familial transmission is due in part to genetic factors (e.g., a concordance rate of 0.57 for monozygotic vs. 0.22 for dizygotic twins)(Pauls 2010). Dysfunction in the orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and striatum have been most strongly implicated(Millad and Rauch 2012).

Culture-Related Diagnostic Issues

OCD occurs across the world. There is substantial similarity across cultures in the gender distribution, age at onset, and comorbidity of OCD(Lewis-Fernández et al. 2010). Moreover, around the globe, there is a similar symptom structure involving cleaning, symmetry, hoarding, taboo thoughts, or fear of harm(Bloch et al. 2008). However, regional variation in symptom expression exists, and cultural factors may shape the content of obsessions and compulsions.

Gender-Related Diagnostic Issues

Males have an earlier age at onset of OCD than females and are more likely to have comorbid tic disorders. Gender differences in the pattern of symptom dimensions have been reported, with, for example, females more likely to have symptoms in the cleaning dimension and males more likely to have symptoms in the forbidden thoughts and symmetry dimensions. Onset or exacerbation of OCD, as well as symptoms that can interfere with the mother-infant relationship (e.g., aggressive obsessions leading to avoidance of the infant), have been reported in the peripartum period.

Suicide Risk

Suicidal thoughts occur at some point in as many as about half of individuals with OCD. Suicide attempts are also reported in up to one-quarter of individuals with OCD; the presence of comorbid major depressive disorder increases the risk.

Functional Consequences of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD is associated with reduced quality of life as well as high levels of social and occupational impairment. Impairment occurs across many different domains of life and is associated with symptom severity. Impairment can be caused by the time spent obsessing and doing compulsions. Avoidance of situations that can trigger obsessions or compulsions can also severely restrict functioning. In addition, specific symptoms can create specific obstacles. For example, obsessions about harm can make relationships with family and friends feel hazardous; the result can be avoidance of these relationships. Obsessions about symmetry can derail the timely completion of school or work projects because the project never feels “just right,” potentially resulting in school failure or job loss. Health consequences can also occur. For example, individuals with contamination concerns may avoid doctors’ offices and hospitals (e.g., because of fears of exposure to germs) or develop dermatological problems (e.g., skin lesions due to excessive washing). Sometimes the symptoms of the disorder interfere with its own treatment (e.g., when medications are considered contaminated). When the disorder starts in childhood or adolescence, individuals may experience developmental difficulties. For example, adolescents may avoid socializing with peers; young adults may struggle when they leave home to live independently. The result can be few significant relationships outside the family and a lack of autonomy and financial independence from their family of origin. In addition, some individuals with OCD try to impose rules and prohibitions on family members because of their disorder (e.g., no one in the family can have visitors to the house for fear of contamination), and this can lead to family dysfunction.

Differential Diagnosis

Anxiety disorders

Recurrent thoughts, avoidant behaviors, and repetitive requests for reassurance can also occur in anxiety disorders. However, the recurrent thoughts that are present in generalized anxiety disorder (i.e., worries) are usually about real-life concerns, whereas the obsessions of OCD usually do not involve real-life concerns and can include content that is odd, irrational, or of a seemingly magical nature; moreover, compulsions are often present and usually linked to the obsessions. Like individuals with OCD, individuals with specific phobia can have a fear reaction to specific objects or situations; however, in specific phobia the feared object is usually much more circumscribed, and rituals are not present. In social anxiety disorder (social phobia), the feared objects or situations are limited to social interactions, and avoidance or reassurance seeking is focused on reducing this social fear.

Major depressive disorder

OCD can be distinguished from the rumination of major depressive disorder, in which thoughts are usually mood-congruent and not necessarily experienced as intrusive or distressing; moreover, ruminations are not linked to compulsions, as is typical in OCD.

Other obsessive-compulsive and related disorders

In body dysmorphic disorder, the obsessions and compulsions are limited to concerns about physical appearance; and in trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), the compulsive behavior is limited to hair pulling in the absence of obsessions. Hoarding disorder symptoms focus exclusively on the persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, marked distress associated with discarding items, and excessive accumulation of objects. However, if an individual has obsessions that are typical of OCD (e.g., concerns about incompleteness or harm), and these obsessions lead to compulsive hoarding behaviors (e.g., acquiring all objects in a set to attain a sense of completeness or not discarding old newspapers because they may contain information that could prevent harm), a diagnosis of OCD should be given instead.

Eating disorders

OCD can be distinguished from anorexia nervosa in that in OCD the obsessions and compulsions are not limited to concerns about weight and food.

Tics (in tic disorder) and stereotyped movements

tic is a sudden, rapid, recurrent, nonrhythmic motor movement or vocalization (e.g., eye blinking, throat clearing). A stereotyped movement is a repetitive, seemingly driven, nonfunctional motor behavior (e.g., head banging, body rocking, self-biting). Tics and stereotyped movements are typically less complex than compulsions and are not aimed at neutralizing obsessions. However, distinguishing between complex tics and compulsions can be difficult. Whereas compulsions are usually preceded by obsessions, tics are often preceded by premonitory sensory urges. Some individuals have symptoms of both OCD and a tic disorder, in which case both diagnoses may be warranted.

Psychotic disorders

Some individuals with OCD have poor insight or even delusional OCD beliefs. However, they have obsessions and compulsions (distinguishing their condition from delusional disorder) and do not have other features of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder (e.g., hallucinations or formal thought disorder).

Other compulsive-like behaviors

Certain behaviors are sometimes described as “compulsive,” including sexual behavior (in the case of paraphilias), gambling (i.e., gambling disorder), and substance use (e.g., alcohol use disorder). However, these behaviors differ from the compulsions of OCD in that the person usually derives pleasure from the activity and may wish to resist it only because of its deleterious consequences.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder

Although obsessive-compulsive personality disorder and OCD have similar names, the clinical manifestations of these disorders are quite different. Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is not characterized by intrusive thoughts, images, or urges or by repetitive behaviors that are performed in response to these intrusions; instead, it involves an enduring and pervasive maladaptive pattern of excessive perfectionism and rigid control. If an individual manifests symptoms of both OCD and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, both diagnoses can be given.


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