OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) Symptoms, Treatments and Info

OCD is short for obsessive compulsive disorder, a psychological condition primarily associated with anxiety and stress. Sufferers of OCD often find themselves involuntarily performing ritualistic acts in reaction to disturbing or invasive thoughts. OCD affects at least two or three percent of the population, although the number of undiagnosed cases could be significantly higher. Many people with OCD are reluctant to seek professional help for their behavior.

In order to understand OCD, it may help to examine each aspect of the disorder separately. The O represents an obsessive thought process, characterized by recurring and often distressing mental images or ideas. Obsession is the mental component of OCD, and the least visible sign to outsiders. These disturbing images continue to play out in a loop until the sufferer feels an overwhelming need to take action. In one form of OCD, called Pure O OCD, the sufferer understands that acting on the obsessive thought would be wrong, and the condition remains in the O stage indefinitely.

Once the stress of the obsessive thought becomes too great, an OCD sufferer feels compelled to take action to relieve the pain. This is the C, or compulsive, element of OCD. The compulsion often manifests itself in a ritualistic or repetitive act. If an OCD patient forms obsessive thoughts about blood on their hands, for example, the associated compulsive act may be repetitive hand-washing. Others might obsess over an unlocked car door, leading them to check their vehicles at regular intervals.

The D in OCD represents a known psychological disorder. In the case of obsessive compulsive disorder, the cause remains elusive. Some believe that the obsessive thought loop is caused by a disconnect between thought and action nerve centers. A normal person may think, I must lock my car, and proceed to perform the complex locking procedure. A person with OCD might think, I must lock my car, and promptly forget whether or not the action has actually taken place. Only when the locking action has been performed enough times will the OCD sufferer make the connection and not experience anxiety.

Treatment for OCD may include both behavioral and cognitive therapies. OCD treatments may also include anti-anxiety medications such as Paxil, but many clinical psychologists prefer to use behavioral modification alone whenever possible. Therapists may start by creating a safe environment in which the patient can experience the mildest form of 'reality shock' possible.

If the OCD sufferer obsesses over sanitation, for example, the therapist may introduce an object with a small speck of dirt visible. This may trigger an obsessive-compulsive reaction at first, but eventually the patient should learn to control his or her irrational thoughts. The dirty object does not match the level of anxiety first created in the OCD sufferer's mind.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms include both obsessions and compulsions.

Obsession symptoms

OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent and unwanted ideas, thoughts, images or impulses that you have involuntarily and that seem to make no sense. These obsessions typically intrude when you're trying to think of or do other things.

Obsessions often have themes to them, such as:

  • Fear of contamination or dirt

  • Having things orderly and symmetrical

  • Aggressive or horrific impulses

Obsession symptoms and signs may include:

  • Fear of being contaminated by shaking hands or by touching objects others have touched

  • Doubts that you've locked the door or turned off the stove

  • Thoughts that you've hurt someone in a traffic accident

  • Intense stress when objects aren't orderly or facing the right way

  • Images of hurting your child

  • Impulses to shout obscenities in inappropriate situations

  • Avoidance of situations that can trigger obsessions, such as shaking hands

  • Dermatitis because of frequent hand washing

  • Skin lesions because of picking at your skin

  • Hair loss or bald spots because of hair pulling

Compulsion symptoms

OCD compulsions are repetitive behaviors that you feel driven to perform. These repetitive behaviors are meant to prevent or reduce anxiety related to your obsessions. For instance, if you believe you hit someone with your car, you may return to the apparent scene over and over because you just can't shake your doubts. You may also make up rules or rituals to follow that help control the anxiety you feel when having obsessive thoughts.

As with obsessions, compulsions typically have themes, such as:

  • Washing and cleaning

  • Counting

  • Checking

  • Demanding reassurances

  • Performing the same action repeatedly

  • Orderliness

Compulsion symptoms and signs may include:

  • Hand washing until your skin becomes raw

  • Checking doors repeatedly to make sure they're locked

  • Checking the stove repeatedly to make sure it's off

  • Counting in certain patterns

  • Arranging your canned goods to face the same way

Symptoms usually begin gradually and tend to vary in severity throughout your life. Symptoms generally worsen during times when you're experiencing more stress. OCD is considered a lifelong illness.

When to see a doctor

There's a difference between being a “perfectionist” and having obsessive-compulsive disorder. Perhaps you keep the floors in your house so clean that you could eat off them. That doesn't necessarily mean that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be so severe and time-consuming that it literally becomes disabling. You may be able to do little else but spend time on your obsessions and compulsions — washing your hands for hours each day, for instance. With OCD, the condition rules most of your days. You may be very distressed, but you seem powerless to stop your urges. Most adults can recognize that their obsessions and compulsions don't make sense. Children, however, may not understand what's wrong.

If your obsessions and compulsions are affecting your life, see your doctor or mental health provider. People with OCD may be ashamed and embarrassed about the condition. But even if your rituals are deeply ingrained, treatment can help.

OCD Treatment

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder which affects millions of people all over the world. As the name suggests, OCD is characterized by repetitive obsessive actions. These obsessions can be linked to cleanliness (repetitive washing and cleaning), hoarding (collecting useless disposable things), checking (repeatedly checking whether the fan/oven is turned off etc.). While the milder forms of OCD can be passed of as harmless eccentricities; the more severe cases can completely destroy the sufferers’ social and professional lives.

Obsessive Compulsive disorder can be hereditary in nature but a majority of OCD cases are triggered by a very stressful event in the patient’s life. OCD can also be triggered by substance abuse. While OCD is still incurable, a variety of OCD treatments are available. These treatments help in managing and lessening the symptoms associated with this disorder. The major OCD treatments are described below.


Since low serotonin levels in the brain are known to contribute to the symptoms of OCD, various SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) are used to treat OCD. In severe OCD cases tranquilizers like Buspirone (Buspar) are also used. Unfortunately, both the above mentioned medications come with serious side effects and must be used under strict medical supervision. To improve the effectiveness of medication as an OCD treatment, it is generally combined with psychotherapy.


Psychotherapy in the form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy is the most popular OCD treatment in use today. It includes some standard techniques which target the anxiety caused as a result of the OCD and it also includes “exposure and response prevention” therapy where the patient is gradually exposed to his/her obsessions in a controlled environment and taught to avoid the repetitive ritualistic behavior that follows. Psychotherapy positively affects 50-80% of OCD patients and is the frontline OCD treatment in use today.


Surgery is only used in very severe cases of OCD which are largely resistant to other forms of treatment. In this procedure, certain parts of the brain are disabled with the help of an electrode which is placed in the brain using MRI. Surgery is becoming increasingly popular as an OCD treatment for severe cases.

Alternative Therapies

Many alternative treatments exist for OCD. Out of these only Inositol (glucose isomer), and St. John’s Wort (herbal remedy) are proven to reduce the incidence of OCD.

The above mentioned OCD treatments can give a new lease of life to people suffering from this dreaded disorder.

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