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Symptoms & Signs of OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition. In the U.S., around 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children struggle with OCD. Psychiatrists used to consider OCD an anxiety disorder, but it is now in a unique category of mental illness. OCD sufferers experience two main problems: recurring thoughts or urges (obsessions) and recurring behaviors (compulsions). These two issues can lead to disruptions in an OCD patient’s life and impact their wellbeing.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms can vary, and not everyone will experience symptoms in the same way. Let’s explore the symptoms and warning signs of OCD, as well as available treatment.

Obsessive Symptoms of OCD

Healthy individuals can show enthusiasm for something in a balanced way. For example, you can become fascinated with things that bring you joy, such as a new TV show, a sport or a hobby. This isn’t the case with OCD. Obsession for OCD patients is always accompanied by fear or anxiety. Symptoms fall into six main categories:

  • Loss of Control: This is the fear of losing control and often features aggressive, savage or scary mental imagery. When you obsess about losing control, you may fear you will commit acts of crime or make inappropriate comments.
  • Causing Harm to Others: If this case, you may worry about being responsible for a terrible accident or causing damage to someone’s property.
  • Becoming Contaminated: One of the most common symptoms is a constant worry about being contaminated. You may fear things like germs, blood or other body fluids. Contamination themes can also center on exposure to chemicals in the home, pollutants in the air or anything else that is dirty or leaves a residue.
  • Religion-Related Themes: This type of OCD involves an unhealthy preoccupation with rules about what is right or wrong. OCD sufferers with this obsession may also constantly worry about offending a higher power.
  • Urge for Perfection: The urge for perfection often involves an obsession with maintaining order and symmetry. This OCD obsession may also feature a dread of losing important items or forgetting details.
  • Undesired Sexual Thinking: This may involve intrusive thoughts about taboo or illegal themes. For example, you may have distressing thoughts about incest, sexual acts with children or inappropriate sexual acts with adults.

There are other obsessive symptoms of OCD that don’t fall into the above categories. They include:

  • Obsessions with numbers
  • Obsessions with certain colors either being lucky or unlucky
  • Obsession with diseases not related to contamination
  • Obsessive accumulation of things, hoarding

Compulsive Symptoms of OCD

OCD symptoms follow a certain pattern. An OCD sufferer will typically experience a vicious cycle that goes like this:

  • Obsessive thought
  • Anxiety
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Temporary relief

After the temporary relief, the obsessive thought will arise again, and the pattern repeats. OCD patients engage in these compulsions as a way to ease their distress. There are four main categories of compulsive behaviors:

  • Washing/Cleaning: This involves excessive washing or grooming rituals. If you have this symptom of OCD, you may wash your hands constantly or clean specific items in your house. This action usually relates to obsessions about contamination.
  • Repeating: When you have a repeating compulsion, you may need to repeat an activity in order to relieve your anxiety. This OCD symptom may include opening and closing a door or repeatedly touching or tapping a part of your body. You may also feel the need to repeat an activity a certain number of times.
  • Checking: This type of OCD compulsion involves making sure an undesired situation hasn’t come about. This could mean repeatedly checking the stove in the kitchen is off out of fear you will burn your house down. It could also mean regularly going to a family or friend’s home to make sure they’re safe.
  • Mental Compulsions: These compulsions take place in the mind, rather than in the form of behaviors. If you have this OCD symptom, you might use prayers or mental inspections to stop undesired events from taking place. It might also involve counting in one’s head to relieve anxiety.

As we can see, OCD symptoms can take many shapes and forms. It’s important to realize, though, that these all interfere with people’s lives in all sorts of ways. OCD is associated with distress, anxiety, fear and uncontrollable urges and behaviors. This can impact your work, social life, relationships, personal obligations and lifestyle.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a treatable mental health condition. Here are some of the effective treatments that can provide relief.

Treating OCD Symptoms

The two main treatments for OCD are medication and therapy. Psychiatrists will usually prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to ease a patient’s symptoms. SSRIs for OCD, which people also take for depression, include drugs like Prozac and Paxil. Medication may be best for more severe cases of OCD or for patients who struggle to gain control over their symptoms.

Many people with OCD find that some form of psychotherapy can help manage their obsessions and compulsions. Common psychotherapeutic approaches include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This helps patients examine and gain control over the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
  • Exposure and response prevention (ERP): In this form of therapy, you gradually expose yourself to the things you fear or obsess about, such as dirt. ERP teaches you healthy ways to cope with your anxiety when exposed to the objects of your obsession.

OCD is a complex mental health condition. A person living with OCD might have a mixture of obsessive and compulsive symptoms as well as related conditions. For the person suffering from OCD, their thoughts and behaviors feel outside their control. With the right treatment, however, people with OCD can gain a sense of control and calm in their life.

Promises Treatment Center can help you or your loved one through the treatment of OCD. Contact our recovery advisors today at 17135283709.

Posted on September 23, 2016 and modified on May 28, 2019

Krisi Herron

Medically Reviewed by

Krisi Herron, LCDC

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