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Everything you need to know about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD

Everything you need to know about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, OCD

by Zahra Ijaz · April 21, 2022

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD, is a mental health condition.
OCD features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears or obsessions that often leads you to do repetitive behaviors or compulsions.
Moreover, these obsessions and compulsions can also interfere with daily life activities and cause significant distress.
Let’s learn more about it in detail.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Symptoms and Causes

In the case of OCD, you may try to ignore or even stop the obsessions, however, that only increases distress and anxiety. Ultimately, you are driven to perform compulsive acts to try to ease your stress.

Despite your efforts to ignore or get rid of bothersome thoughts or urges, they keep coming back, and lead to more ritualistic behavior, the vicious cycle of OCD.

Let’s learn more about it in detail.

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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD

OCD is a chronic mental health condition that involves obsessions, compulsions, or both.

In the United States, around 2 to 3% of the people have this condition, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

It is important to note that people living with OCD often experience obsessions or repetitive unwanted thoughts that prompt an extreme urge to repeat a specific behavior.

Moreover, they then tend to act out the urge, compulsion, to help relieve the obsessive thought.

Another important thing to note is that people double-check to make sure they have locked the front door or turned off the stove.

Though it is very common to have a superstition or two like knocking on the wood or wearing your team’s jersey when they play.

OCD cycle

Furthermore, these habits may also help to feel more secure, however, they do not automatically suggest OCD.

For people living with OCD, these rituals are not a matter of personal choice.

Rather, they complicate and disrupt everyday life.

Many people with OCD recognize the thoughts and beliefs fueling their compulsions as illogical or at least highly unlikely.

Still, they act on them to:

  • relieve the distress that occurs due to intrusive obsessive thoughts
  • prevent persistent fears from becoming a reality

Language Matters

You may hear someone say “i’s so OCD” as they like items on their desk to stay arranged in a certain way or prefer to wash and put away dishes immediately after meals.

However, OCD is much more than a personal preference.

The symptoms of OCD can take up a significant part of your data and disrupt your regular activities.

This may also cause distress. With OCD, you know that obsessions and compulsions are not grounded in reality, however, you still sell compelled to act on them.

It is important to note that using “OCD” casually to describe habits or behaviors you choose to do can minimize the seriousness of OCD.

Not to mention the distress experienced by people living with the condition.

Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD

OCD involves two main types of symptoms: Obsessions and Compulsions.

If you are one of the people living with OCD, you can experience both obsessions and compulsions, however, in some cases, you may only experience one or the other.

Moreover, these symptoms are not just fleeting or short-lived.

Even milder symptoms can take at least an hour each day and significantly affect your day-to-day activities.

Obsessions or compulsions may also affect your ability to pay attention at school or complete tasks at work.

They can also keep you from going to school or work, or anywhere else.

You may realize that these obsessive thoughts are not true or know that these compulsive behaviors will not actually do anything to prevent them.

Yet, they often feel uncontrollable, all the same.

Let’s discuss obsessions and compulsions in detail:


An important thing to consider is that the content of obsessive thoughts can vary widely, however, a few common themes are:

  • worries about germs, dirt, or illness
  • fear of harming yourself or someone else
  • fear of saying something offensive or obscene
  • a need to have your possessions aligned, orderly, or symmetrical
  • explicit sexual or violent thoughts
  • worries about throwing things away
  • questioning your sexual desires or orientation
  • a worry about the health and safety of yourself or your loved ones
  • intrusive images, words, or sounds

Moreover, these unwanted and intrusive thoughts keep coming back, no matter how hard you try to ignore or suppress them.

Their very persistence can lead to an even stronger conviction that they may be true or may come true if you do not take steps to prevent them.


Examples of compulsive behaviors in OCD are:

  • washing your hands, objects, or body
  • organizing or aligning objects in a certain or specific way
  • counting or repeating specific phrases
  • seeking reassurance from others
  • collecting certain objects or buying several of the same items
  • hiding objects you can use to hurt yourself or someone else
  • mentally going over your actions to make sure you do not harm anyone else

You can think of compulsions as a response to obsessions.

Once an obsessions surfaces, you may feel compelled to take action in order to relieve the anxiety and distress it causes.

Or keep that obsessive thought from coming true.

Moreover, you may feel the need to repeat these actions a specific number of times, or until things seem “just right”.

If you make a mistake during the ritual, you may feel that it will not work unless you start from the beginning and finish it perfectly.

Causes of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD

Experts do not know what exactly causes OCD, however, a family history of the condition may play a large part.

If you have a close family member with OCD, you can have a higher chance of also having the condition.

Irregular development and impairment in certain areas of your brain have also been linked to this condition, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Some evidence also suggests that OCD may relate, in part, to how your brain responds to serotonin.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood and sleep, and also has a number of other important functions throughout your body.

Risk Factors

If you are genetically more likely to develop OCD, some other factors can also increase your chances of developing this condition.

These are:

Stress to Trauma Significant stress at home, school, work, or in personal relationships can raise your chances of developing OCD or worsening existing symptoms.

Personality Some personality traits like difficulty handling uncertainty heightened feelings of responsibility, or perfectionism may factor into OCD.

However, there is some doubt over whether these are actually fixed traits or more flexible learned responses that can change.

Abuse in Childhood Children who experience abuse or other traumatic childhood experiences like bullying or severe neglect, also have a higher chance of developing the condition.

Childhood Acute Neuriosychiatirc Symptoms, CANS For some children, OCD begins suddenly after an infection.

After a streptococcal infection, this syndrome, or PANDAS stands for pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with Streptococcus.

However, other infections or diseases can also cause symptoms.

Traumatic Brain Injury According to a study, symptoms of OCD may appear for the first time following a head injury.

Keep in mind that it is possible to have a family history of OCD, along with other risks, and still never develop the condition yourself.

What’s more, people without any known risk factors can still have OCD.

OCD and other Mental Health Conditions

Additionally, OCD often occurs with other mental health conditions, including:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD
  • Tourette Syndrome
  • major depressive disorder
  • social anxiety disorder
  • social anxiety disorder
  • eating disorders

About 90% of people living with OCD have another mental health condition, with anxiety conditions being the most common.

That said, having one of these conditions does not automatically mean you are more likely to have OCD.



Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Types and Diagnosis

Understanding the signs and symptoms of OCD is an important part of diagnosing OCD.
With the help of thises, your doctor can diagnose the condition of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Your symptoms can also align with one of the subtypes of obsessive-compulsive disorders or fall into multiple categories.
Keep on reading.

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Types of OCD

There is no formal classification of different types of OCD, however, experts commonly separate symptoms into several subtypes.

These are:

  • contamination and cleaning
  • fear of harm and checking
  • symmetry, perfectionism, and ordering
  • intrusive sexual, violent, or other taboo thoughts
  • collecting or hoarding

It is important to note that your symptoms can mainly align with one of the above subtypes or fall into multiple categories.

The fact that symptoms often do not fit healthy into one category may help explain these subtypes remain unofficial.


These are not only the suggested subtype of OCD, either. While some other unofficial “types” of OCD are:

Scrupulosity or religious OCD involves obsessions and compulsions that center around religious beliefs.

If you have a thought you consider blasphemous, you may feel compelled to pray at certain times a day, count to a certain number, or touch several objects in order to cancel it out.

Relationship OCD involves frequent doubts, questions, and intrusive thoughts about your relationship.

Pure O, Obsession involves sexual, religious, or violent intrusive thoughts and obsessions, but no apparent compulsions.

Moreover, pure O may still involve compulsions, they just might take place as mental rituals rather than physical actions.

Diagnosing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

In case you experience obsessions or compulsions, a trained mental health professional can help you get a diagnosis, and explore the best treatment plan.

Symptoms of OCD appear in childhood first for about half of the people living with this condition.

As the symptoms often begin gradually, they may not be very noticeable right away.

As a matter of fact, many people tend to live with this condition for years before they seek medical advice or seeking help.

Talking about OCD symptoms can feel difficult, especially if you have already tried and been brushed off.

Maybe you shared an obsessive thought with a parent, they laughed, hugged you, and said “Do not worry, that’s not going to happen”.

However, their loving dismissal did nothing to ease those thoughts.

Your healthcare professional will often start by asking questions about the obsessions or compulsions you experience.

These are how much time you think they take each day, what you do to try and ignore or suppress them, whether the OCD-related beliefs feel true to you and what effects obsessions and compulsions on your relationships and daily life.

Moreover, they will also ask about the medications you are taking and other mental health or medical conditions you experience to help rule out medical side effects or other conditions.

Mental Health Conditions like OCD

Some other mental health conditions can also involve symptoms that resemble OCD.

These are:

Body Dysmorphic Disorder can involve fixated thoughts or repetitive behaviors that relate to your physical appearance.

Trichotillomania involves persistent urges to put out your own hair.

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Depression can involve loping unwanted thoughts, however, these thoughts do not lead to compulsive behaviors.

Hoarding Disorder Involves collecting an excess of unneeded objects and having difficulty throwing them.

However, these possessions do not trigger distress.

If you are among people with OCD, you may collect or save items due to a compulsion to complete a set or because you believe not saving such items may lead to harm.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder also involves frequent and persistent worries.

Moreover, these concerns often relate to everyday life, While they may lead you to avoid people or certain situations, they do not lead to compulsive actions.

Tics or sudden, repeated movements can also occur with OCD.

It is not uncommon for people with OCD to also have tic disorders like Tourette Syndrome, however, you can also have a tic disorder without having OCD.

A mental health professional will use all the information they gather to determine whether OCD is the most accurate diagnosis and explore other diagnoses.


Treatment and More

With the help of careful evaluation and diagnosis, your doctor or healthcare professional can then devise a treatment plan. Connecting with a therapist who has experience treating OCD is a good step toward exploring helpful treatment options. Often the treatment for OCD includes both psychotherapy and medications.
Keep on reading to learn more about it in detail.

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A few different psychotropic medications can help reduce OCD symptoms.

Your psychiatrist or other prescribing clinicians may prescribe:

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, SSRIs include fluoxetine or sertraline.

Tricyclic Antidepressant Clomiparmine though this medication will not be prescribed as a first-line treatment.

Antipsychotic medications like aripiprazole or risperidone can help enhance the effects of SSRIs.

Memantine An NMDA receptor antagonist can also help to enhance the effects of SSRIs.

It is important to note that in some cases, it can take 8 to 12 weeks before SSRIs take effect.

Therefore, make sure to take your medications as directed even if you do not notice improvement immediately.

Some side effects, however, are also possible. So you will always want to let your care team know about any unwanted symptoms you may experience while taking these medications.

if these side effects outweigh the benefits of the medications, your psychiatrist may recommend another treatment approach.

Therapy for OCD

Mental health professionals often recommend therapy as a part of a combined approach to treat OCD.

medication can also help relieve symptoms, however, working with a therapist can help you learn to:

Tools to manage unwanted thoughts and change unhelpful patterns of behavior, and strategies to improve relaxation and cope with emotional distress.


Some therapy approaches for OCD are:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, CBT helps to learn to identify and reframe patterns of unwanted or negative thoughts and behaviors.

Exposure and Response Prevention, ERP This is a type of CBT that involves gradual exposure to feared situations, or the concerns at the root of obsessions or compulsions.

Moreover, the goal of ERP is to learn to manage distress obsessions cause without engaging in compulsive behaviors.

Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy This involves learning mindfulness skills that help you to cope with distress that obsessive thoughts can trigger.

Other Approaches for OCD

Some limited evidence suggests that brain stimulation for COD symptoms can also help.

Deep Brain Stimulation involves delivering electrical pulses directly into the areas of your brain that are associated with OCD.

This occurs through a thin electrode. In this procedure, your doctor will perform surgery, so your care team will likely only recommend it for very severe symptoms that do not improve with other treatments.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, TMS TMS involves agentic impulses, that a magnetic coil delivers to your brain.

Experts are of the view that magnetic pulses can help to ease OCD symptoms by stimulating associated areas of your brain.

Moreover, this noninvasive procedure does not require surgery and your doctor can use it along with medication and therapy.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Children

About half of the people with COD first notice symptoms during childhood.

Children may not always show symptoms of OCD in the same way as adults.

For instance, they may not realize their obsessions or compulsions are excessive and may believe everyone has similar thoughts and urges.

Their obsessions may seem less obvious Certain thought patterns like magical thinking or fears of bad things happening to the loved ones may also look like a typical part of child development.

OCD in children

Moreover, tics tend to develop more often with childhood-onset OCD, according to a study.

The more commonly have symptoms for multiple categories of OCD.

Treatment for children involves therapy, medications, or both, as it goes for adults.

However, if you think your child has OCD, reaching out to a therapist can help who specializes in working with children is a good next step.


Despite the similarity in name, obsessive-compulsive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder is completely different conditions.

OCPD is characterized by an extreme need for orderliness, perfection, and control, including within relationships.

Moreover, it does not involve obsessions or compulsions.

Some of the key symptoms of OCPD are:

  • preoccupation with details, order, rules, and schedules
  • perfection that gets in the way of completing tasks or assignments
  • spending too much time on work that no time remains for personal interests or relationships
  • an inflexible or overly conscientious attitude toward ethical or moral concerns
  • extreme difficulty discarding objects
  • trouble delegating responsibility or working with other
  •  a tendency to avoid spending money whenever possible
  • a rigid to stubborn attitude

Moreover, personality disorder like OCPD involves fixed, persistent traits that can disrupt relationships and everyday life.

Thus people living with personality disorders often do not even recognize these traits as problematic, however, simply accept them as a part of their personality.

Still, in comparison to people living with other personality disorders, those with COPD are more likely to seek treatment.

In comparison to other personality disorders, OCPD can be treated more effectively.

On the other hand, people with OCD are more likely to seek medical advice as their symptoms do cause distress.

It is, however, possible to have both conditions. But a mental health professional can help diagnose them separately.

OCPD may also involve different approaches to treatment, including psychodynamic therapy.

Living with OCD

Though there is no cure for OCD, professional treatment and a range of coping strategies can help to manage the symptoms and minimize or even eliminate their impact on your daily life.

Getting help from a therapist who has experience treating OCD can go a long way toward easing feelings of stress and improving your quality of life. With the help of professional support,  is also possible to learn new strategies to manage OCD symptoms, and challenge patterns of unwanted thoughts.

They can also offer guidance with other helpful coping strategies like breathing exercises, meditation, and mindfulness techniques, creating a self-care routine, and opening up to a loved one. You may find it difficult to talk about OCD with people in your life and nothing says you have to share your diagnosis until you are ready.

However, isolating yourself will only make things worse. Reaching out to family, friends, and other loved ones can make it easier to get emotional support, along with any other type of support you may need, which can, in turn, lead to improvement in well-being. Moreover, joining an OCD support group can also be another way to connect with people who understand what you are experiencing.

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