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Scrabble letters spelling out OCD

Symptoms & Signs of OCD

What Is OCD?

OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is a diagnosable mental health condition that once belonged to the group of illnesses known as anxiety disorders. However, it now has its own unique category. People with OCD experience two main problems: recurring urges or thoughts known as obsessions and recurring behaviors known as compulsions. Together, these thoughts and behaviors produce significant life disruption and diminish the ability to establish or maintain a sense of well-being.

Obsessive Symptoms of OCD

The definition of obsession in people with OCD differs from the definition commonly used in general speech. In common usage, you can become “obsessed” about things that bring you pleasure, such as a favorite TV show or preferred activity. However, in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, obsession is always accompanied by significant anxiety or fear. There are six main themes of obsession in affected individuals: loss of control, causing harm to others, becoming contaminated with something, religion-related thoughts or images, an urge for perfection and undesired sexual thinking.

Loss of Control — An obsession with loss of control can involve fears of harming others, fears of harming oneself or more general fears of aggressive, savage or terrifying mental imagery. It can also involve dread of stealing or dread of making inappropriate or obscene comments.

Causing Harm to Others — This category includes anxieties about causing specific types of harm. For example, an affected person may dread being the cause of a terrible accident or the cause of catastrophic property damage.

Becoming Contaminated — Contamination themes in a person with OCD may center on exposure to things such as contagious microorganisms or germs, blood or other bodily fluids. They can also center on exposure to chemicals used in the home, airborne pollutants or anything that can leave a dirty residue.

Religion-Related Themes — Religious obsessions commonly involve a preoccupation with defining morality-based rules of right and wrong. They may also involve fears of offending a higher power.

Urge for Perfection — An urge for perfection can manifest as an obsession with maintaining order. It can also take other forms such as dread of losing important items or forgetting important details.

Undesired Sexual Thinking — An obsession with undesired sexual thinking may include taboo or illegal themes such as incest or sexual acts with children. It may also involve taboo sexual impulses toward specific adults, or more general sexual images or thought processes.

Several common themes don’t fall into any of these main categories, including obsessions with numbers or colors that bring good or bad luck, and obsessions with diseases not caused by some form of contamination.

Compulsive Symptoms of OCD

OCD in women and men can produce a range of compulsive behaviors that basically serve as reactions to obsessive thoughts, imagery or urges. There are four main categories of these behaviors: washing/cleaning, repeating, checking and mental compulsions.

Washing/Cleaning — Common washing or cleaning behaviors include engaging excessively in bathing or other grooming rituals, repeated or ritualistic hand-washing and frequent cleaning of specific items.

Repeating — A repeating compulsion can take many forms, including a need to repeat an everyday activity like opening or closing a door, a need to repeatedly touch or tap parts of the body and a need to perform an activity a specific number of times. It can also manifest as a need to write or read things multiple times.

Checking — A checking compulsion often centers on a need to make sure that an undesired situation or event did not occur. Examples of such situations and events include harming oneself, harming others and making specific errors. This type of compulsion can also center on specific parts of the body or the body’s general condition.

Mental Compulsions — Mental compulsions are behaviors “performed” in the mind. Common examples of these behaviors include using prayers or mental inspections to stop unwanted outcomes from occurring, as well as counting to make sure that an activity is repeated the “correct” number of times.

A person with OCD may have a mixture of obsessive and compulsive symptoms, or symptoms that only fall into one of these two broad categories. In addition to its main symptoms, the disorder may also produce involuntary physical or verbal tics. The majority of affected individuals have enough self-awareness to question the validity of their thoughts, urges and actions. However, some do not.


National Institute of Mental Health: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

International OCD Foundation: About OCD

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