Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, And All You Need To Know

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, And All You Need To Know

Obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD is a chronic condition which can disrupt daily activities and cause significant distress.

Obsessive compulsive disorder: Symptoms, causes, and all you need to know

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterised by a recurring pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears known as obsessions, which in turn lead to repetitive behaviours called compulsions. 

Despite attempts to ignore or suppress these obsessions, doing so only intensifies the distress and anxiety experienced. As a result, people with OCD feel compelled to engage in repetitive actions as a means of alleviating their stress. However, despite their efforts to disregard or eliminate these distressing thoughts or urges, they persistently resurface, perpetuating the cycle of OCD.

OCD often revolves around specific themes, such as an intense fear of contamination from germs. In an attempt to alleviate these contamination fears, individuals may compulsively wash their hands to the point of soreness and chapping.

OCD is typically a chronic condition, persisting throughout one's life, although the symptoms may fluctuate over time.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) typically develops through a combination of obsessions and compulsions. However, it is also possible to experience either obsession symptoms or compulsion symptoms exclusively. 

Symptoms of obsession

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) develops through repetitive, persistent, and unwanted thoughts, urges, or intrusive images that cause distress or anxiety. These obsessions intrude on your mind, often interrupting your thoughts and activities. To cope, you may attempt to ignore or eliminate them by engaging in compulsive behaviours or rituals.

Obsessions typically revolve around specific themes, including:

  1. Fear of contamination or dirt
  2. Doubt and difficulty tolerating uncertainty
  3. Need for orderliness and symmetry
  4. Aggressive or terrifying thoughts about losing control and causing harm to oneself or others
  5. Unwanted thoughts related to aggression, sexuality, or religion

Examples of signs and symptoms of obsessions may include:

  1. Fear of becoming contaminated by touching objects that others have touched
  2. Doubts about whether you have locked the door or turned off the stove
  3. Intense stress or anxiety when things are not arranged in a specific order or facing a certain direction
  4. Intrusive images of driving your car into a crowd of people
  5. Thoughts about shouting obscenities or behaving inappropriately in public
  6. Disturbing sexual images
  7. Avoidance of situations that can trigger obsessions, such as avoiding shaking hands with others

Symptoms of compulsions

Compulsions associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) appear as repetitive behaviours that one feels compelled to perform. These actions, whether physical or mental, aim to alleviate anxiety stemming from obsessions or prevent potential harm. However, engaging in these compulsions rarely brings joy and merely provides temporary relief from anxiety.

Compulsions commonly revolve around specific themes, such as:

  1. Washing and cleaning
  2. Checking
  3. Counting
  4. Need for orderliness
  5. Strict adherence to routines
  6. Seeking reassurance

Examples of signs and symptoms of compulsions include:

  1. Excessive hand-washing leading to raw skin
  2. Repeatedly checking doors to ensure they are locked
  3. Continuously verifying the stove is turned off
  4. Counting in specific patterns
  5. Quietly repeating prayers, words, or phrases
  6. Arranging canned goods to face the same direction

Causes of OCD

The exact causes of OCD are not fully understood by researchers. However, they believe that several factors may contribute to its development, which include:

Genetics - Studies have indicated that people with a first-degree relative (such as a biological parent or sibling) who has OCD are at a higher risk of developing the condition. The risk further increases if the relative experienced OCD during their childhood or teenage years.

Brain changes - Imaging studies have revealed differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of the brains of individuals with OCD. Additionally, OCD is associated with other neurological conditions that affect similar areas of the brain, including Parkinson's disease, Tourette's syndrome, and epilepsy.

PANDAS syndrome - PANDAS stands for "paediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections." It refers to a group of conditions that can affect children who have had strep infections, such as strep throat or scarlet fever. OCD is one of the conditions that can be associated with PANDAS.

Childhood trauma - Some studies have found a connection between childhood trauma, such as abuse or neglect, and the development of OCD.

Diagnosis of OCD

Diagnosing OCD does not involve a specific test. Instead, a healthcare provider determines the diagnosis by conducting a thorough evaluation of your symptoms, as well as reviewing your medical and mental health history. 

These criteria for diagnosis include:

  1. Presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both
  2. Obsessions or compulsions that consume a significant amount of time (more than an hour per day)
  3. Obsessions or compulsions that cause distress or interfere with your ability to engage in social activities, work responsibilities, or other important aspects of life
  4. Symptoms that are not attributable to substance use, alcohol, medications, or another medical condition
  5. Symptoms that cannot be better explained by a different mental health condition, such as generalised anxiety disorder, eating disorder, or body image disorder


It is crucial to bear in mind that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder. Like any other mental health condition, it is beneficial to seek assistance promptly upon experiencing symptoms to minimise the impact on your daily life. Healthcare providers and mental health experts can provide treatment strategies to assist you in managing your obsessions and compulsions effectively.

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