What is Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

What is Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness which often results in long-lasting effects that are defined by disorderly, continuous thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions).

There are many ways in which people with OCD relieve these feelings – from biting their nails to excessively cleaning everything in their living facility. The disorder can have a destructive effect on a person’s relationships and career. Many people feel as though they can’t live a normal life due to the disorder.

The purpose of this article is to teach you everything you need to know about obsessive-compulsive disorder and give you information on how to best help the person suffering. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

Symptoms of OCD

When it comes to OCD, people tend to feel either symptom of obsession or compulsion. In more serious cases, people feel both. Often, these symptoms get in the way of important areas of a person’s life, such as personal relationships, work, and school.

Obsession Symptoms

A symptom of obsession will feel like a repeated thought, impulse, or mental picture that causes apprehension. Common obsession symptoms include:

  • Aggressive thoughts (either towards self or others)
  • A need for everything to be symmetrical or perfectly ordered
  • Paranoia of germs or contaminations
  • Undesired prohibited or taboo thoughts (may involve harm, religion, and sex)

Compulsion Symptoms

A symptom of compulsion is usually the result of obsessive thoughts. This way of thinking leaves someone feeling the need to perform repetitive behaviors including:

  • Compulsive counting
  • Imprudent cleaning and/or handwashing
  • Keeping everything ordered in a particular and precise manner
  • Redundantly checking on things, such as to see if the door is locked

Signs of OCD

As with other mental illnesses, OCD is very personal. Therefore, not everyone will experience symptoms in the same manner.

Furthermore, some of the characteristics of OCD seem to be normal aspects of any person’s life. It’s not uncommon for people to double check things on occasions. However, people with OCD have the tendency to:

  • Lack of control over his or her thoughts and conduct, even when he or she has the ability to identify the excessiveness of these thoughts and behaviors.
  • Doesn’t receive true pleasure when acting out these behaviors, yet, continues to as he or she feels brief alleviation from anxiety caused by the thoughts.
  • Experiences complications in his or her day-to-day life due to these thoughts and conduct.
  • Spends an hour or more a day on these thoughts and behaviors.

People with OCD may also suffer from something known as a tic disorder (or referred to as motor tics). These are sudden and short monotonous movements such as:

  • Eye blinking and/or other eye movements
  • Facial wincing
  • Grunting sounds
  • Head jerking
  • Shoulder jerking/shrugging
  • Sniffing
  • Throat-clearing

When Do Symptoms Appear?

Symptoms for OCD will come and go at random. For some people, symptoms ease over time. For others, they worsen. People who struggle with OCD may try to take care of themselves by keeping away from situations or objects which bring on these symptoms. They may also use alcohol or drugs to self-medicate.

Most adults understand that their behavior is out of the ordinary. Yet, some adults and most children aren’t aware of their abnormal conduct.

You might wonder whether or not you have OCD. To be sure, you’ll want to talk to a medical professional. By continuing to let your OCD be untreated, you could worsen your symptoms.

OCD Risk Factors and Statistics

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is very common all over the world. Most people who have it are diagnosed around the age of 19, but there are plenty of cases where people are diagnosed earlier. For the most part, boys develop OCD at an earlier age than girls. It should be noted, people don’t develop the disorder after the age of 35.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the following are statistics taken for OCD:

  • Around 1.2% of all United States adults suffer from OCD.
  • About 1.8% of the above figure was female while 0.5% were male.
  • About half (50.6%) of people with OCD suffer from a serious impairment.
  • 34.8% of adults with OCD suffer from moderate impairment while 14.6% suffer from a mild impairment.

Causes of OCD

There are a number of different factors which play a role in how OCD develops.  Granted, each person will have received the disorder through different means. The only way to truly know for yourself is to talk with a mental health professional and receive treatment.

It should be noted, medical professionals don’t know everything there is to what causes OCD.


Through studies, we know people are at great risk of receiving OCD from a first-degree relative (i.e. a child, parent, or sibling). Those who do have a first-degree relative with the disorder will most likely grow into it either in childhood or as an adolescent.

Brain Formation and Functioning

Through image studies, we know people with OCD reveal a difference in their frontal cortex and subcortical formations of the brain. It’s not entirely understood how these unusual areas of the brain work. Yet, we know due to these formations, the brain functions with the likes of OCD symptoms.


There are certain traumatic experiences people can run into in their life which will lead to OCD. From what researchers have found, this tends to be abuse (either physical or sexual). Furthermore, there are even infections (such as streptococcal) which can influence OCD symptoms.


When it comes to OCD, people who seek out treatment will receive medication, psychotherapy, or both. The majority of people who go to treatment show a positive response. However, not everyone will ease symptoms through treatment.

There are occasions where people with OCD suffer from other mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression. If you are one of these people, it’s important to address both disorders while undergoing treatment.


People with OCD often benefit from serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications ease symptoms in both children and adults.

The most common medication given to people with OCD is clomipramine. However, you may also receive:

  • Fluoxetine
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Sertraline

When you begin taking an SRI it may take 8 to 12 weeks before it starts to work. Still, there are some cases the medication begins working on patients quickly.

You might be in a position where the medication hasn’t worked. There are instances where people suffering from OCD respond better to antipsychotic medications (such as risperidone).

Whenever you’re taking a prescription medication, you’ll want to make sure to:

  • Have an open discussion with your medical professional about your prescription will allow you to better comprehend the hazards and benefits.
  • Never stop taking medication without letting your doctor know. When you instantly take medication out of your system, there’s a chance you’ll worsen OCD symptoms. There are other potential hazards as some people experience withdrawal.
  • If you’re experiencing any side effects, talk about it with your doctor immediately.


People with OCD benefit greatly from psychotherapies. The purpose of the treatment is to focus on a variety of factors that lead to OCD. By discovering the roots of the cause, the goal is to then teach you how to alleviate symptoms.

The most common form of psychotherapy used for OCD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This is due to the fact that CBT calls for Exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP) which can reduce impulsive conduct. It’s even been proven beneficial for those who don’t react to SRIs.

Other Therapies

When both medication and psychotherapy is ineffective, you’ll most likely be offered a deep brain stimulation (DBS). There is a variety of DBS out there, but the most common is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Get Involved in a Study

Would you like to see treatment and understanding of OCD progress?

Then it may be in your best interest to set yourself up in a clinical trial. These studies seek new alternatives to preventing, detecting, and treating mental health conditions.

In order to learn more about these trials, feel free to visit NIMH Clinical Trials – Participants or Join a Study.

Your Questions

This article sought to give you all the information you need on obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Still have more questions?

Feel free to ask them in the comments below. We reply to everyone in a timely and personal manner.

If you have further information or advice pertaining to OCD, we’d also love to hear from you.


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