Definition and Overview

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a psychological condition characterized by repetitive behavior driven by fears or unreasonable thoughts. A person diagnosed with OCD may or may not be aware that an obsession is unreasonable. Nevertheless, the person feels an irresistible urge to perform certain actions in order to alleviate the stress brought about by a condition or circumstance. These conditions or circumstances will often bring forth fear, and though the person may attempt to suppress that fear, the feeling only increases, which then results in more repetitive actions.

Symptoms of OCD

Majority of the time, a person with OCD has both an obsession and a compulsion. However, it is possible to have one of the two conditions. An obsession may exist, but not a compulsion or vice versa. Regardless of whether one or both conditions exist, it will still be referred to as OCD.

The most usual obsessive symptoms are:

  • Fear – such as fear of dirt, germs, fire, or bodily harm.
  • Doubt – Doubt that a needed action was indeed performed, like locking the doors or turning off the stove
  • Unreasonable thoughts – aggression, inappropriate actions, or sexually related conditions

The most usual compulsive symptoms are:

  • Orderliness
  • Checking and rechecking
  • Counting
  • Adhering to a rigid routine

In the early stages of OCD, the symptoms of both obsession and compulsion may hardly be noticeable. However, as the condition advances, the symptoms have a tendency to become severe. Children with this condition will not be aware of what is happening, but adults often realize that their obsession or compulsion can be unreasonable.

Is perfectionism an OCD?

Some people are perfectionists, but they can’t automatically be considered as having OCD. The difference between perfectionism and OCD is on the reasonableness of the thought. Perfectionists have thoughts that are usually reasonable and that are directed to achieve a certain goal. People with OCD have unreasonable thoughts.

Causes of OCD

Until today, the exact causes of OCD have yet to be determined. However, there are a couple of theories on the matter. One theory is that OCD is caused by biological factors, such as changes in body chemistry or may have been inherited. The other theory is that OCD is caused by environmental factors, like stressful situations.

Complications of OCD

A person with OCD will usually have another type of disorder that was triggered by the first condition, such as eating disorders, suicidal disorders, anxiety, depression, and substance or alcohol abuse. Many end up with a troubled family and social life. Attending school and events may become a problem. In short, a person with OCD normally has a poor quality of life.

When should you see a doctor?

As earlier mentioned, an adult with OCD usually realizes that his/her thoughts are unreasonable. If those thoughts begin to affect your quality of life, like if you can’t seem to get anything accomplished because of a certain situation, or your health starts to deteriorate or is at risk because of certain unreasonable fears, then you should consult a specialist.

Children, on the other hand, will not be able to distinguish reasonable and unreasonable thoughts. Parents or guardians will have to monitor their actions closely, and if their quality of life is affected, then professional help is needed.

You should first consult your family doctor or physician. If that doctor believes that you may have OCD, you will likely be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Before you report for an appointment with a mental health provider, make sure to list down some things that the specialist may ask. These include any medications you’ve been taking, what you believe are the triggers, and past events that were stressful and made a significant impact on your life.

The specialist will then have to perform a series of tests that include a physical exam, laboratory tests, and a psychological evaluation.

The mental health provider will then try to determine if your condition is indeed OCD or if you have another type of mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety disorder.

Treatment of OCD

It’s important to realize that OCD may not have a cure regardless of the treatment. However, treatment can help you bring the symptoms under control to the extent that the condition no longer affects your quality of life.

People with OCD are usually treated with medications and/or psychotherapy, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Psychotherapy includes a method called exposure and response prevention. This method is performed in a controlled environment, and it involves exposing you to your fears, or creating the triggers of your condition. The concept is that you will learn to respond positively to those fears and triggers and be able to manage the obsessions and compulsions.

Medications will usually be antidepressants like Sertraline, Flouxetine, Paroxetine, and Fluvoxamine. However, not everybody will respond the same to a certain drug. It may take some time to identify the drug that can help you the most. Most of the time, the effects of a drug will only be noticeable after a few weeks or even months. If you don’t respond positively after that time, you’ll need to try another drug.

Once you find the right type of drug, make sure to take it regularly as prescribed by your doctor. Do not stop taking the drug without the advice of your doctor. If your doctor determines that you can be treated with a lesser dose, this will be done gradually in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

You should also discuss the side effects and risks associated with anti-depressants with your doctor, so that you can recognize them immediately. One side effect is an increase of suicidal thoughts, and if you experience this, you should contact your doctor immediately or ask for help from a capable provider and make sure that you describe your condition.

Lastly, it’s important that you make an effort to take control of your own life. Medications and psychotherapy will help you accomplish this, even if your condition is not cured. Your efforts combined with outside help and medications will increase your chances of controlling OCD.


  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – American Psychiatric Association
  • National Institute of Mental Health
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