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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people experience recurrent thoughts and feelings called obsessions. These thoughts drive them to perform repetitive behaviors or rituals called compulsions. Repetitive behaviors include hand washing, counting floor or ceiling tiles, or intense cleaning. These thoughts and behaviors are considered disorders because they can significantly interfere with a person’s daily living and relationships. Persistent thoughts or repetitive behaviors are not the sole domain of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Almost everyone experiences these things from time to time. The difference is that in people living with OCD, those thoughts are almost ever-present, and the compulsions are regular and intense enough to interfere with everyday life. Not ‘giving in’ to the compulsion is extraordinarily uncomfortable and stressful. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder often know these feelings aren’t realistic or practical, but that doesn’t cause them to subside. Other OCD sufferers have what is known as limited insight, which means they can rationalize their obsessions and compulsions.

How is OCD Diagnosed?

An OCD diagnosis requires the presence of obsessive thoughts and/or compulsions that interfere with daily living. The standard metric is if these thoughts and behaviors take more than one hour a day and significant stress and upset normal functioning. OCD affects about 3% of people in the U.S. It often begins in childhood, teenage years, or early adulthood.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is somewhat more prevalent in adult women than in adult men. Ideally, a person who believes they have obsessive-compulsive disorder should spend more than one visit with a clinician. An environment, such as partial-hospitalization treatment, where patients can be observed, seen regularly, and monitored as treatment progresses is ideal.

Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) often attempt to relieve the stress of the obsessions and compulsions, ignore or suppress them, or distract themselves. These coping mechanisms are rarely effective for long, if at all, in someone with an OCD diagnosis. Recognizing some of the symptoms of this disorder is an excellent way to raise awareness and get a person the help they need if there is any uncertainty or lack of willingness to accept help. Of course, only a professional clinical diagnosis can determine if OCD is present. Here is a list of symptoms to watch for:

>Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder


Obsessions are persistent, recurring thoughts, images, or feelings. These obsessive thoughts often trigger upsetting emotions like worry or disgust. People with OCD often realize their obsessions are not realistic, sensible, or accurate. However, this awareness does not provide any relief. Attempts to control or distract themselves from the obsessions don’t relieve the symptoms or associated distress. Some OCD sufferers have what is known as limited insight, which means they can rationalize their obsessions and compulsions. In either case, treatment is necessary to manage symptoms of OCD to the degree that a person can live a happy, fulfilled life without being constantly troubled by them.

Some common obsessions include:

  • Disturbing or inappropriate sexual thoughts
  • Fixations on symmetry, alignment, or precision
  • Fear of filth or being contaminated by people/places
  • Recurring, troubling thoughts of images, words, sounds, or numbers
  • Fear of spontaneously shouting insults or obscene words
  • Worries about losing something precious or important


Repetitive actions or thought processes a person feels driven towards in response to an obsession are known as compulsions. These behaviors usually need to be executed to reduce the distress caused by an obsession, even though the relief is only temporary. Some compulsions directly relate to an obsession, like excessive hand washing due to the fear of germs or filth. Other compulsions are seemingly unrelated to the obsession that triggers them. For example, patients may need to count the stairs they walk down before they get in the car to drive to work. For some people with OCD, these behaviors can take up so much of the day that it makes a routine of work, school, and leisure very difficult, if not nearly impossible.

Commonly seen compulsions include:

  • Repeated, fastidious cleaning of objects
  • Excessive washing of hands or body or other bodily hygiene practices
  • Checking door locks or appliances over and over again
  • Repeatedly counting to a certain number
  • A need to align objects ‘just so.’
  • Continuously seeking approval

Treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Several evidence-based treatment methods can help with obsessive-compulsive disorder. They range from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to pharmacotherapy (medication) to self-care and wellness practices, including meditation, yoga, exercise, and nutrition. The most effective treatment plans tend to include several of these elements. In combination, they can have a synergistic effect, providing the patient with more relief and resolution than they might have otherwise experienced.

If you believe you or someone you love is living with OCD, contact us.


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