Exact definitions of each of the symptoms defining Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)


Obsessions as defined by (1), (2), (3), and (4):

  • Recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced at some time during the disturbance as intrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress;
  • The thoughts, impulses, or images are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems;
  • The person attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, impulses, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action;
  • The person recognizes that the obsessional thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of his or her own mind (not imposed from without as in thought insertion).

Compulsions as defined by (1) and (2):

  • Repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession, or according to rules that must be rigidly applied;
  • The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation, despite the fact that these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent or, are clearly excessive.

--- And: ---

At some point during course of the disorder, the person has recognized that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.

Note: This does not apply to children.

The obsessions or compulsions cause marked distress, are time consuming (take more than 1 hour a day) or significantly interfere with the person's normal routine, occupational (or academic) functioning, or usual social activities or relationships.

If another disorder is present, the content of the obsessions or compulsions is not restricted to it.

The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological or psychological effects of a substance (e.g., drug abuse or medication) or a general medical condition.

For most or all of the duration of an episode, the person does not recognize that the obsessions and compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fourth edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

This material is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult with your physician if you are in any way concerned about your health.

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