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OCD or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: What Is It?

What is OCD? Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a distressing mental health condition that produces repetitive thoughts and compulsive behavior. Keep reading to discover what causes OCD, different types of OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms, and how it’s treated.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychological phenomenon that affects how you think and act in the world. Individuals diagnosed with OCD harbor obsessive, often undesirable, and irrational thoughts that cause anxiety. They compel you to perform repetitive actions or behaviors which seem unreasonable to most. Having OCD means that a failure to do these things will only make you more anxious. 

Satisfying the OCD compulsion provides temporary relief. Unfortunately, it also creates a vicious cycle because it reinforces the pattern of repetition and potentially results in destructive behavior.

These thoughts and compulsions might become severe enough to interfere with simple tasks like leaving the house, driving to work, or getting ready for bed. Though it’s a chronic condition, the severity and symptoms vary. 

If you have OCD, you might worry about the spread of germs, for example. So you compulsively wash your hands more often than necessary. Over time, your skin becomes dry, chapped, cracked, and raw. 

Have you ever asked yourself, “Do I have OCD?” If the answer is yes, let’s dig a little deeper and review the different types of OCD and symptoms typically observed. 

Symptoms of OCD involve obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. An obsessive thought is one you continuously ruminate over. Your mind repeats the same thought again and again, and soon it’s all you can think about. OCD-related thoughts are very difficult to get rid of, and it takes more than sheer willpower to do it.

An individual with OCD might harbor an obsessive fear of: 

  • Catching germs or getting sick
  • Forgetting to do something that could have a negative consequence, like turning off the stove or locking the front door
  • Hurting yourself or others, even if you’d never intentionally do so
  • A loved one getting hurt or dying

The only way you’ll be able to free your mind from an OCD-related thought is with compulsive behavior. Compulsive behavior is an excessive task or repetitive action you take to prevent your fears from turning into reality. Usually, performing the task won’t actually solve the problem, but it does provide temporary relief from the obsessive thought.

For instance, if you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may worry that your house will burn down. You then feel the need to repeatedly check if the stove is turned off before going to bed. The compulsion is considered excessive when you begin checking the stove five, ten times, or more before bedtime.

Other examples of OCD compulsions include:

  • Washing and cleaning
  • Counting
  • Collecting or hoarding things
  • Arranging items
  • Making up rules or rituals to follow
  • Sticking to a strict schedule or routine
  • Creating orderliness 
  • Needing reassurance  

OCD and anxiety are very much intertwined. Trying to suppress OCD-related behaviors only increases stress and agitation. Instead, acting on the compulsion helps relieve the tension, at least until another obsessive thought arises. 

OCD affects people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities. Some studies show that OCD could be linked to abnormalities in certain regions of your brain. Also, you may possess a greater likelihood of developing obsessive-compulsive disorder if one of your parents has it. 

Other associations have been drawn between OCD symptoms and early trauma or even childhood cases of strep throat or streptococcal infection. 

While there is no one explanation behind OCD, genetics can, in fact, play a role. More than one family member may display symptoms of OCD like obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, but they’ll each express those symptoms differently. 

OCD behaviors usually present during adolescence and tend to worsen in adulthood. If you have OCD, you might demonstrate certain personality traits, such as being very responsible, conscientious by nature, or fearful of making mistakes. 

OCD could also arise after you’ve lived through a personal crisis, traumatic event, or stressful circumstances, including death, abuse, or serious illness. 

Because obsessive-compulsive disorder is a medical condition, only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose it. 

Many people experiencing OCD live with symptoms for a long time before seeking formal diagnosis or treatment. You might think these obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors are simply quirks or personal eccentricities. However, if left untreated, OCD symptoms can intensify over time. 

To diagnose OCD, your doctor or psychotherapist will ask you questions to better understand the situation. They’ll ask what repetitive thoughts you have and what you feel you need to do to get rid of them. They’ll also rule out other general anxiety disorders, phobias, or medical conditions to confirm an OCD diagnosis. 

Another potential prerequisite for obsessive-compulsive disorder? You notice distressing, irrational thoughts lasting more than one hour almost every day for at least two weeks. 

Several treatment options are available to those with OCD. It may be comprised of a combination of approaches. Options include cognitive-behavioral therapy, visualization exercises, habit reversal training, or exposure and response prevention therapy. Furthermore, medication and lifestyle changes could help manage stress stemming from OCD. In more severe cases of OCD, it might be wise to see a psychiatrist, especially if you’re having suicidal thoughts. 

OCD treatment often requires time, patience, and regular appointments with a healthcare professional. The good news is, it can be highly effective in decreasing your OCD symptoms.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder has been known to create other complications and lifestyle challenges, such as: 

  • Consequences of physical compulsions (e.g., excessive handwashing leads to skin irritation)
  • Social isolation due to an inability to go to work, school, or other group settings
  • Poor overall quality of life
  • Harmful thoughts about suicide or harming others

Speak with your doctor if you’re concerned about OCD complications. And as always, don’t hesitate to seek physical, emotional, or mental health assistance when you need it.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder triggering obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors. OCD symptoms can severely disrupt your daily life, but proper treatment goes a long way toward managing and alleviating them. Consult your doctor if you suspect you might have obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26554283

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279562/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354438

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006322317322862

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ocd/what-is-obsessive-compulsive-disorder

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