WHAT IS OCD?
People with OCD experience repetitive and upsetting thoughts and/or behaviours, explains Keira Bartlett of the charity OCD Action. It has two main features - obsessions and compulsions.
"Obsessions are involuntary thoughts, images or impulses," says Keira.
Common obsessions include fears about dirt, germs and contamination; fears of acting out violent or aggressive thoughts or impulses; unreasonable fears of harming others, especially loved ones. Also abhorrent, blasphemous or sexual thoughts; inordinate concern with order.
"The main features of obsessions are that they are automatic, frequent, upsetting or distressing," she adds.
There are also many types of compulsions. "It is common for people to carry out a compulsion to try and reduce the anxiety caused by an obsession," says Keira.
Common compulsions include excessive cleaning, checking, repeatedly touching, counting, arranging and ordering, hoarding, ritualistic behaviours that lessen the chances of provoking an obsession (for example, putting all sharp objects out of sight).
Compulsions can also be mental rituals, such as repeating words or phrases, or saying a prayer.
"The main features of compulsions are that they are repetitive and stereotyped actions that the person feels forced to perform," she explains.
People can have compulsions without having obsessional thoughts but they often occur together.
Carrying out a compulsion cuts a person's anxiety and makes the urge to perform the compulsion again stronger each time. People with OCD can, however, appear normal, making it the "secretive disorder", she adds.
People with OCD know that their thoughts are excessive or irrational but the anxiety they feel makes the thoughts difficult to ignore.
Many people feel that they have some 'OCD-like' behaviour, such as double-checking the door at night. But if it is having little impact on their life they are unlikely to be diagnosed as having OCD, she says.
HOW COMMON IS IT? OCD is much more common than previously thought, says Keira. Sufferers have often not known that the disorder is a recognised condition with treatments.
ASSESSMENT AND DIAGNOSIS Keira advises sufferers to see a GP who should refer you to a mental health professional for an assessment.
TREATMENT Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is available through the NHS, says Ashley Fulwood, boss of OCD-UK. "CBT is a 'talking' therapy and is usually provided for about 10 hours over 10 weeks," he adds.
Anti-depressants may also be prescribed for the anxiety caused by OCD.
SELF-HELP Through 'Books on Prescription' at reading-well.org.uk, there's free access to books about the condition.
OCD-UK has a free support forum at ocdforums.org.