Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

This is a severe kind of anxiety disorder where a person repeatedly performs certain tasks, and believes that fulfilling these can help eliminating their fear or anxiety. If a person has OCD, he/she develops impulses and obsessions with particular fears like getting infected by germs, or leaving the gas on and other such things. The worrying thoughts circle around the person’s mind, and lead them to do certain works compulsorily. The obsessions and compulsions together cause obsessive compulsive disorder in a person. Almost all times, the repetitive actions do not carry any logic or sense.

The impulses drive the person to retain a compulsive routine of certain activities like washing hands repeatedly, checking the lights over and again, praying, counting continuously, etc. If by any chance, the person fails to fulfill the obsessive action, he/she gets very worried and anxious. If the disorder prolongs to a long time period, it can disrupt the person’s daily living extremely.

Different Categories of OCD

To understand OCD better, we should know the following commonly occurring OCDs.


It is associated with constant worrying if he/she has missed doing anything, and checking different objects repeatedly. Most commonly found cases of checking related OCDs are repeatedly checking on cooking gas, doors and windows, house alarms, repeatedly reading a book again and again, and checking symptoms of diseases over and again.

Contamination and infection

It is associated with constant fear that he/she would get infected by germs and illnesses, and may die as a result. These types of OCDs are related with repeatedly washing hands or body, excessively brushing teeth, repeatedly cleaning kitchen/bathrooms/rooms and obsession with cleaning products. The person would avoid places like public lavatories, hospitals, clinics, crowded cafes and restaurants.


This is another obsession that can occur in person having OCD. If a person has OCD associated with hoarding, he/she becomes unable to dispose any wasted and useless things such as old newspapers. Instead, they can be found collecting these things over a long period of time. Even when little space might be left, they’re not be able to overcome this compulsion to collect them.

Intrusive thoughts

This type of OCD is associated with repetitive and disturbing thoughts that are negative and harmful most of the times. A person having this kind of OCD may repeatedly have doubts in one’s partner, thoughts about getting sexually involved with children or members of same sex, thoughts about killing innocent people, desire to use harmful weapons like knives and guns, thoughts about poisoning family members, sexual thoughts about god and doubting one’s own sexuality.

Symmetry and Order

The fear that everything won’t be in right place brings obsession with symmetry and order. A person having this kind of OCD has to compulsorily maintain all the objects symmetrically and in perfectly correct positions. The person can show actions such as repeatedly arranging books in a bookshelf, having photo frames in perfect straight position, arranging clay and glass utensils over and again, perfectly hanging down clothes in a closet and constantly arranging the room decors, furniture, cushion and curtains.

How common is OCD?

It has been estimated that at least 3.3 million adults and 1 million children and teens suffer from OCD in the U.S alone. This disorder usually starts in early childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, if cases are to be studied. OCD can occur to anyone irrelevant to age, sex, nationality or any other personal attributes. Most people with OCD are brainy and sharp, as a result of this disorder.

What are the symptoms to recognize it?

The symptoms occur in two ways; obsessions and compulsions.

1. The person develops certain obsessions,fear and anxiety of particular object/events/habits.

Common Obsessions

  • Intense fear of germs, dirt, toxic materials and sticky objects
  • Anxiety that one would be infected with a deadly disease like HIV, cancer, etc.
  • Always worried if he/she has missed anything to do
  • Disturbing thoughts about harming oneself, or someone else
  • Violent and disturbing sexual ideas
  • Intense thoughts on religion, philosophy, values and ethics
  • Always concerned about maintaining accuracy and orderliness

2. The person develops compulsive actions, and behavior to satisfy the obsessions and believe that it would eliminate the fear and anxiety.

Common Compulsions

  • Repetitive hand-washing, cleaning, bathing, tooth-brushing and buying lots of cleaning products
  • Checking home appliances, door knobs, windows and lights
  • Reassuring oneself over and again, or getting reassurance from others repeatedly
  • Continuously counting numbers, climbing stairs repeatedly or other such senseless action
  • Harming or killing innocent people
  • Offensive and obscene sexual activities

3.These actions become uncontrollable, and take up a form of routine in the person’s life

4.The person would spend a significant amount of time in these activities, and gets detached from other everyday tasks

5.Most of the people recognize these activities as irrelevant and illogical (except in children), but still unable to overcome the urge

6.The person becomes extremely distressed if he/she would miss doing any of the compulsive actions

When to visit doctor?

You need a specialized care and treatment from doctor if:

  • You have been having either unreasonable obsessions or compulsions, or both for a visible time period
  • You have been completely concentrated on the obsessions and compulsions, and detached you from everyday tasks
  • You feel completely distressed, and have disturbing thoughts about harming/killing oneself or others

How is it treated?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be treated by using psychotherapies along with proper medicines as discussed below.


Psychotherapies involve sessions with a psychologist/psychiatrist to improve the thinking pattern and behavior of the person. For OCD, a special kind of psychotherapy known as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is used. In this therapy, the person having OCD is exposed and confronted with the obsession he/she is having. The therapist teaches healthy coping ways to deal with the obsession, and control the urge to do the compulsive actions. The main goal of ERP is to develop a healthy response in the person, and break the ritualistic and habituated behavior.

One to one counseling with the therapist also helps to open doors for sharing one’s weakness, and get ideas on improvement. It’d lighten up the burden of thoughts and obsession eventually with effective counseling.


Medicines that include anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs are used for treatment of OCD. They help to adjust Serotonin of the brain which is responsible for maintaining mood of the person. The medicines should be strictly be taken according the prescription of doctor. These medicines would improve the condition within a few weeks time.

Consult your doctor properly before taking any medications.

Support groups

Along with the therapy and medications, one can join support groups of OCD where you’d meet people having similar problems, and would make you feel that you’re not the only one facing this problem. Interacting with them and knowing how they have been coping with the disorder will motivate you more through the whole treatment process.