Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Why do some people exhibit obsessive compulsive tendencies?"
Hi. I am a 28 year old woman and my husband counts the stairs wherever we go. What causes this?
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a pervasive mental illness characterized by obsessions (anxiety-provoking thoughts that individuals are unable to get out of their head) which require compulsive actions (repetitive actions to relieve the obsessive anxiety). Not much is known about why individuals get OCD, other than that it appears to be passed in families. A similar but most likely unrelated disorder, obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), involves a preoccupation with rules, order, and regulation, but without the overwhelming anxiety accompanying the obsessions and without specific compulsions that must follow to relieve the anxiety. It is important to distinguish between OCD, OCPD, and normal behavior, however. In order to establish the diagnosis of OCD, both obsessions and compulsions must be present, and the disorder must interfere with an individual's ability to function in their daily life. The diagnosis of OCPD requires a characteristic and established pattern of obsession with rules, order, and regulations which interfere with the individual's ability to function normally in society (although people with OCPD are often unaware that their actions are abnormal). It is not uncommon for people to have idiosyncratic behaviors, such as counting the stairs, or a preoccupation with rules and order, such as keeping a very clean house, but unless these meet the criteria described above, a diagnosis of OCD or OCPD should not be assigned. Only a licensed psychiatrist should diagnose and treat OCD or OCPD, and if these counting behaviors begin to interfere with your husband's ability to function at home or at work, you should seek an in-person consultation with a psychiatrist. If, however, they continue to be mild and there is no other reason for concern, these should be consider a part of the range of normal human behavior.
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