Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that compels individuals to repeatedly perform rituals and suffer from obtrusive, obsessive thoughts. Researchers estimate that approximately 1.2% of Americans have OCD. More women than men are affected by the disorder and the first symptoms often appear in childhood or early adulthood.

Below you will find an overview of OCD behaviors, causes, symptoms and treatment options.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is a disorder that causes individuals to have recurring thoughts or sensations, called obsessions. To cope with obsessive thoughts, the person feels compelled to perform an action over and over. This repeated or ritual action is called a compulsion. Some examples of compulsive behaviors include:

  • Repeated, unnecessary cleaning of surfaces like counters, tables, doorknobs, or light switches
  • Repeated hand washing, usually consecutively
  • Checking multiple times to make sure doors are locked or appliances have been switched off
  • Repeatedly checking in on loved ones to make sure they’re safe

For those living with OCD, compulsions are obsessive, and the person has little control over these actions. As the name implies, they will feel compelled to complete these actions or rituals, at the risk of causing harm to themselves or to others. If left untreated, compulsive behaviors can significantly interfere with an individual’s life.

How Does OCD Affect an Individual’s Life?

It’s common for people to have anxious thoughts or to perform certain behaviors consistently. Some people even maintain consistent routines or daily rituals that help them feel at ease. However, for someone with OCD, anxious thoughts and compulsive behaviors become disruptive and take over their daily life.

A young man sits in his apartment, distressed by his OCD compulsions.

For those with OCD, the thoughts are unwanted and not performing rituals causes great distress. It’s often hard for those with OCD to determine if their obsessive thoughts reflect a true perception of reality. Even if a person with OCD has enough insight to identify their thoughts are not true, it can still be almost impossible to stop the compulsive behaviors.

A medical professional will provide a diagnosis of OCD if compulsions and routines cause major distress and behaviors take up a significant amount of time each day. OCD often disrupts an individual’s job, social life and family relationships.

What Are OCD Symptoms?

OCD obsessions are consistent and unwanted urges and thoughts that cause a lot of distress. If you suffer from OCD, you may try to ignore the obsessions. Most people cannot ignore the compulsions for long and attempt to get rid of the thought by performing a ritual.

People with OCD typically have similar obsessions. These compulsion themes include:

  • Fear of bacteria, germs or dirt
  • Difficulty with indecision and uncertainty
  • Fear of losing or not having things you might need
  • Requiring things to be clean, orderly and symmetrical
  • Violent thoughts

This is not a comprehensive list of the symptoms of OCD. Other behavioral manifestations of OCD include agitation, hoarding, impulsivity, repetitive movements, social isolation and ritualistic thoughts and behaviors.

What are the Subtypes of OCD?

OCD sufferers usually experience symptoms that are consistent with a specific subtype. While symptoms are usually consistent, it is possible to experience a change in the nature of symptoms or to experience symptoms from other subtypes simultaneously. The major subtypes of OCD include:

Contamination/Germs: People who suffer from fear of contamination are often paralyzed with fear of germs, bacteria, or becoming sick. Contamination is the most common subtype of OCD in the U.S. with approximately 25% of OCD patients suffering from these symptoms.

Harm/Injury: Many people with OCD have the harm subtype of the condition. This subtype is present when the affected have consistent and persistent thoughts of harming themselves or others. Those with harm OCD often do not trust their thoughts or actions.

Symmetry: Those that suffer from symmetry OCD are obsessed with neatness and orderliness. Sufferers often arrange items in their home compulsively, striving for perfect symmetry. These compulsions often cause those affected to repeatedly align items in their home multiple times a day.

Hoarding: Those who suffer from hoarding obsessions have a hard time parting with old items including newspapers, clothing, and even food scraps. If you suffer from hoarding OCD, you may have a hard time getting rid of items, regardless of their actual value.

It is not uncommon for OCD sufferers to experience many of these symptom subtypes at different periods throughout their life.

What Causes OCD?

OCD is a complex condition caused by a multitude of factors including genetics, your environment, hormones, and even stressors. There is no one specific cause of OCD. Researchers believe many factors work together to cause the manifestation of the disease. Risk factors for OCD include:

  • Age: The first signs of OCD usually present in late adolescence or early adulthood.
  • Genetics: Medical practitioners believe that genes may play a role in the development of OCD. Research suggests that an OCD sufferer has a 25% chance of having a blood relative with the same disease.
  • Other neurological conditions: OCD often manifests in those that have been diagnosed with other neurological conditions including anxiety, depression, Tourette syndrome, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
  • Stress: Major life stressors including death, divorce, financial difficulties, or abuse can trigger OCD or make the symptoms worse.
  • Brain structure: Researchers have observed that people with OCD have differences in certain parts of the brain. The relationship between brain structure, chemistry, and OCD is still less understood. Fortunately, continued studies allow researchers and mental health experts to learn more about our brains and how it affects mental health.

It’s important to note that this is not a comprehensive list of all of the risk factors associated with OCD. Only a medical practitioner can diagnose OCD. Self-diagnosis is not recommended; if you believe you or someone you know is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, it’s important to seek diagnoses from a medical professional.

How Is OCD Diagnosed?

The DSM-5 is a clinical manual that provides medical practitioners with specific criteria for diagnosing mental disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder.

The first criterion outlined in the DSM-5 is the presence of obsessions or compulsions. The manual defines obsessions as persistent thoughts, impulses or urges that are intrusive and unwanted. Obsessions are often suppressed or neutralized by performing a ritual, or compulsion. The manual defines compulsions as repetitive behaviors that a sufferer performs in response to an obsession.

OCD is often hard to diagnose in children younger than 10 because they are not able to accurately describe their thoughts. Therefore, the condition is usually not diagnosed until the teenage years.

What Are OCD Treatments?

While there is no cure for OCD, there are medications and therapies that can help manage the symptoms.

A young woman has a conversation in her therapist's office.

Treatment options for OCD include both medication and behavioral therapy.

Medications

The medication most commonly prescribed to treat the condition is a drug called a Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. Commonly used to treat depression, SRIs have also been found effective at addressing OCD symptoms.

The following antidepressants are routinely prescribed to OCD patients:

This is not an exhaustive list of medications available. A doctor is the best resource to determine the most effective medication for your condition.

Therapy

Medication is often used in combination with psychotherapy approaches. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is commonly used to help treat the symptoms of OCD. CBT must be administered by a licensed medical practitioner to be effective. It seeks to help patients think and behave in different ways by identifying and understanding their reaction to compulsions and obsessions.

Some therapists may also use exposure therapy. This type of therapy gradually exposes you to your fears so you can learn to cope with them healthily. Depending on your OCD symptoms, your clinician may advise other treatment or psychotherapy options.

Treatment for OCD At High Focus Centers

High Focus Centers provides structured outpatient and psychiatric OCD treatment programs. They specialize in providing treatments that focus on addressing the underlying causes of your OCD symptoms. If you are ready to take back your life, contact High Focus Centers today. You deserve to live free of OCD symptoms. Call today to discuss your treatment options.

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