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Signs and Symptoms of OCD

Signs and Symptoms of OCD or Compulsion, Manifestation of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Traits, Causes, Risk Factors, Complication & Diagnosis

OCD Symptoms Overview

OCD, or obsessive-compulsive disorder[1], is a common colloquial in everyday speech. Regularly used to describe nitpicky behavior or considered slightly neurotic in the public eye, OCD is often viewed as a rare trait rather than a severe mental health challenge for those who have received a clinical diagnosis. In reality, OCD is not a casual condition; in extreme cases, it can be crippling, affecting everything from job performance to the ability to leave the house in the morning.

For those with OCD, proper care, whether in the form of a stay in a mental health rehabilitation center, the use of medication, or both, is critical to managing symptoms and minimizing their effects. This is how to know if you have OCD.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.

You may try to ignore or stop your obsessions, which only increases your distress and anxiety. Ultimately, you feel driven to perform compulsive acts to ease your stress. Despite efforts to ignore or get rid of bothersome thoughts or urges, they keep coming back. This leads to more ritualistic behavior — the vicious cycle of OCD.

OCD often centers around specific themes — for example, an excessive fear of getting contaminated by germs. To ease your contamination fears, you may compulsively wash your hands until they’re sore and chapped.

If you have OCD, you may be ashamed and embarrassed about the condition, but OCD treatment can be effective.

OCD Signs and Symptoms

Obsessive-compulsive disorder usually includes both obsessions and compulsions. But it’s also possible to have only obsession symptoms or compulsion symptoms. You may or may not realize that your obsessions and compulsions are excessive or unreasonable, but they take up a great deal of time and interfere with your daily routine and social, school, or work functioning.

An abbreviation for obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD is characterized by recurring and omnipresent thoughts, ideas, and motivations that stand in the way of everyday life. These intrusive thoughts can result in compulsive behaviors, like washing hands multiple times before leaving the restroom, turning lights on and off repeatedly before leaving a room, or cleaning each room in a home multiple times a day. Not doing these things is not a matter of will; failing to accomplish these set routines can cause significant stress and anxiety, sometimes to the point of triggering panic attacks. In addition, affected individuals will continue to impose their fears, worries, and compulsions on those around them, falling further into these dangerous thought patterns.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder ( OCD) is a mental illness that causes repeated unwanted thoughts or sensations. 
Obsessive-compulsive disorder ( OCD) is a mental illness that causes repeated unwanted thoughts or sensations. 

It is important to note that a few random compulsive behaviors do not constitute OCD; this can be a very normal part of life for many. For a clinical diagnosis, patients must display:

  • Time-consuming compulsions interfering with an hour or more each day
  • Significant distress due to compulsive behavior
  • Impairment of work or social functions

Around 1.2% of the population lives with OCD (American Psychiatric Association), affecting more women than men.

OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent and unwanted thoughts, urge, or intrusive images that cause distress or anxiety. You might try to ignore them or get rid of them by performing a compulsive behavior or ritual. However, these obsessions typically intrude when you try to think of or do other things.

Obsessions often have themes to them, such as:

  • Fear of contamination or dirt
  • Doubting and having difficulty tolerating uncertainty
  • Needing things orderly and symmetrical
  • Aggressive or horrific thoughts about losing control and harming yourself or others
  • Unwanted studies, including aggression or sexual or religious subjects

Examples of obsession signs and symptoms include:

  • Fear of being contaminated by touching objects others have touched
  • Doubts that you’ve locked the door or turned off the stove
  • Intense stress when objects aren’t orderly or facing a certain way
  • Images of driving your car into a crowd of people
  • Thoughts about shouting obscenities or misbehaving in public
  • Unpleasant sexual images
  • Avoidance of situations that can trigger obsessions, such as shaking hands

Compulsion Symptoms

OCD compulsions are repetitive behaviors that you feel driven to perform. These repetitive behaviors or mental acts are meant to reduce anxiety related to your obsessions or prevent something wrong from happening. However, engaging in the compulsions brings no pleasure and may offer only temporary relief from stress. You may make up rules or rituals to follow that help control your anxiety when having obsessive thoughts. But, unfortunately, these compulsions are excessive and often are not realistically related to the problem they’re intended to fix.

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

  • Washing and cleaning
  • Checking
  • Counting
  • Orderliness
  • Following a strict routine
  • Demanding reassurance

Examples of compulsion signs and symptoms 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
  • Silently repeating a prayer, word, or phrase
  • Arranging your canned goods to face the same way
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) features a pattern of obsessions and compulsions that interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress. 
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) features a pattern of obsessions and compulsions that interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress. 

OCD Severity Varies

OCD usually begins in the teen or young adult years, but it can start in childhood. Symptoms typically start gradually and tend to vary in severity throughout life. The types of obsessions and compulsions you experience can also change over time. Symptoms generally worsen when you experience more significant stress. OCD, usually considered a lifelong disorder, can have mild to moderate symptoms or be so severe and time-consuming that it becomes disabling.

Manifestation of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Traits

OCD often arises early in life, with symptoms appearing in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood in most cases. The average age of diagnosis is 19.

How OCD manifests can be very specific from one person to another, but the first signs often include:

  • Fear of germs, illness, and dying
  • Fears about having made mistakes or not doing things “right.”
  • Unwanted thoughts about causing harm
  • Compulsive activities related to fears, like sterilizing areas to prevent germs, excessive hand washing, and repeating actions to make sure situations are correct
  • Regular apologizing or explaining benign situations
  • Arranging and organizing arbitrary items
  • Asking for constant reassurance of safety or acceptance in everyday situations

In many cases, these symptoms will come on slowly. For example, consistent thoughts regarding something like death may result in an obsession with cleanliness, while frequent apologies seemingly out of nowhere can indicate an obsession with correctness. In children, these things may be easily confused with standard learned behaviors. In sporadic cases, symptoms can appear all at once out of nowhere, but this is not common. Without proper treatment, these kinds of indicators will only continue to worsen in all cases. Obsessions will grow more profound, and compulsions will intensify.

Signs of OCD in Adults

Due to the widespread everyday use of the concept of OCD, noticing actual signs in others can be challenging. Therefore, when considering symptoms to bring up with a friend or loved one potentially, it’s essential to detach the everyday use of OCD from any signs you may believe you are seeing.

Instead, focus on these kinds of incidents:

  • An increasing worry about normal circumstances, like catching a cold
  • The start of repetitive behaviors, like needing to wash hands multiple times or, in the case of a coworker, compulsively cleaning a workspace
  • Obsession with minute details of ordinary life and a fixation on the associated potential consequences, like a sick individual potentially passing on deadly germs.
  • Insisting on a particular order of items, like keeping clothes color-coded or books alphabetized or put on shelves by height

Again, it is essential to note that behavioral idiosyncrasies that individual displays, like obsessive attention to detail, which may be referred to as OCD behavior in a conversational manner, are not a proven sign of a diagnosable case of OCD.

Alternatives to OCD

A shift in behavior is not necessarily always correlated with OCD, and other mental illnesses can be associated with what many people understand as the signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anxiety, for example, can result in unnecessary worry about things like death and dying or the danger of germs. At the same time, conditions like schizophrenia can trigger sudden shifts in mood, life perspective, and temperament.

An obsessive-compulsive personality disorder may be an issue for those showing less severe signs. OCPD is a distinct personality disorder characterized by less severe habits that define OCD as a concern with orderliness, attention to detail, and perfection in results. This can result in similar behaviors, like consistently organizing home areas and workspaces or a strong need to control a given environment. While OCPD can interfere with relationships and job performance, it doesn’t result in the severe consequences that untreated OCD can cause.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder. If you live with OCD, you will usually have obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. 
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder. If you live with OCD, you will usually have obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. 

Types of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Traits

As with numerous other forms of mental illness, OCD can be broken down into multiple subcategories primarily based on symptoms. These differentiations aren’t necessarily clinical and aren’t broken out in the DSM-V but are commonly accepted by many OCD counselors and therapists. By identifying subtypes, it’s often easier to create an effective treatment plan.

Ordering and Symmetry

Those obsessive about ordering and symmetry are concerned with keeping possessions and item locations in a neat, orderly manner that exceeds what other people may consider neat or clean. Symptoms can include:

  • A compulsive need to organize things in a particular way
  • An obsession with symmetry using criteria like size or color
  • Counting of objects, sometimes repetitively
  • Rituals surrounding organizing objects
  • Panic or anxiety when things aren’t correctly organized

Contamination and Cleaning

Those with a focus on contamination and cleaning tend to hyperfocus on areas related to germ elimination, disease prevention, and cleanliness that goes above and beyond usual human standards. This subtype is often dictated by:

  • An obsession with cleanliness, both physical and mental
  • Fear of disease and biological materials
  • Avoidance of germ-ridden areas, like bathrooms and medical facilities
  • Ongoing cleaning of the body, clothing, and physical areas
  • Washing or cleaning rituals, often related to showering or hand washing


Hoarding can be associated with several different mental health issues but can be a component of OCD in some people. Those who hoard have:

  • A belief that disposing of items can cause harm
  • A solid need to protect personal belongings
  • Fear of throwing away potentially important information
  • Trouble touching accumulated materials due to the potential for contamination
  • A feeling of incompleteness when not surrounded by chosen possessions

Troubling Thoughts

Not all forms of OCD involve obsessive actions. In some cases, OCD primarily consists of intrusive thoughts that interfere with daily life. In this case, these thoughts tend to be more forbidden, about disturbing or uncomfortable topics that cause distress. This form of OCD manifests as:

  • Intrusive thoughts that are damaging or upsetting
  • The shame surrounding troubling thoughts
  • Fear of acting on inappropriate thoughts
  • Feelings of responsibility for harmful actions
  • Fear of harming others, either intentionally or unintentionally
  • An ongoing need for reassurance of being a good or worthy person
  • Rituals designed to expel or avoid negative thoughts

Behavioral Tics

Behavioral tics are often thought of as a part of conditions like Tourette’s but can also be a part of an OCD diagnosis. These can vary but usually include shrugging, twitching, blinking, or throat clearing. Behavioral tics generally accompany other OCD symptoms rather than standing alone.


The cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder isn’t fully understood. Main theories include:

  • Biology. OCD may result from changes in your body’s natural chemistry or brain functions.
  • Genetics. OCD may have a genetic component, but specific genes have yet to be identified.
  • Learning. Obsessive fears and compulsive behaviors can be learned from watching family members or gradually learned over time.

Risk Factors from OCD

Factors that may increase the risk of developing or triggering obsessive-compulsive disorder include:

  • Family history. Having parents or other family members with the disorder can increase your risk of developing OCD.
  • Stressful life events. If you’ve experienced traumatic or stressful events, your risk may increase. This reaction may, for some reason, trigger the intrusive thoughts, rituals, and emotional distress characteristic of OCD.
  • Other mental health disorders. OCD may be related to other mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, or tic disorders.

Complications from OCD

Problems resulting from obsessive-compulsive disorder may include, among others:

  • Excessive time spent engaging in ritualistic behaviors
  • Health issues, such as contact dermatitis from frequent hand-washing
  • Difficulty attending work, or social activities
  • Troubled relationships
  • Overall poor quality of life
  • Suicidal thoughts and behavior

Diagnosing OCD

Diagnosis of OCD requires a meeting with a trained mental health professional, ideally either a psychologist or a psychiatrist. In an appointment, a patient will be asked questions related to behavior and thought patterns, including common symptoms and less common manifestations. The extent of these thoughts and behaviors will be evaluated, and an analysis of the likelihood of recurrence and the impact on daily life will be analyzed. By considering all of the criteria outlined in the DSM-V, it is possible to determine whether or not an individual truly has OCD.

It’s possible to believe you have OCD or that a loved one is showing signs, but a healthcare professional should properly diagnose all mental health challenges. Self-diagnosis is always discouraged.

We Level Up Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. In addition, we work as an integrated team providing information about signs and symptoms of OCD and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and answer any of your questions.

Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.


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