Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: What It Is, Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a common mental health condition in which a person has obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. It affects men, women, and children and can develop at any age, some people develop the condition early, around puberty, but it typically forms during early adulthood. It can be distressing and significantly interfere with your life, but treatment can help keep it under control.

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

It is an anxiety disorder in which people have recurring and unwanted thoughts, ideas, or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors, such as washing hands, checking things, or cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions.

Many people have focused thoughts or repeated behaviors, but these do not interrupt daily life and can add structure or make tasks more manageable. For people with this disorder, the views are persistent. The routines and unwanted behaviors are rigid, and not doing them causes excellent anguish; they know or suspect that their obsessions are not true; others may think they might be true (known as poor perception ).


They are repeated thoughts, impulses, or images that cause anxiety; many people recognize that these are the product of their minds and are excessive or unreasonable. However, these intrusive thoughts cannot be resolved by logic or reasoning.

Most people with this disorder try to ignore or suppress such obsessions or compensate for them with other thoughts or actions. Typical habits include excessive concerns about contamination or harm, the need for symmetry or accuracy, or forbidden sexual or religious beliefs.

Common obsessions include:

  • Fear of germs or contamination.
  • Forbidden or taboo thoughts that involve sex, religion, and harm.
  • Aggressive thoughts towards others or oneself.
  • Have things symmetrical or in perfect order.


They are repetitive behaviors that a person with this type of disorder feels the need to do in response to an obsessive thought. The behaviors are intended to prevent or reduce distress or a feared situation. In severe cases, constant repetition can fill the day, making a routine impossible.

Common compulsions include:

  • Excessive cleaning and handwashing.
  • Order and organize things in a particular and precise way.
  • Repeated inspection of items, like repeatedly checking to see if the door is closed or if the oven is off.
  • Compulsive counting.

Not all rituals or habits are compulsions; everyone checks things twice on occasion, but a person with this problem usually:

  • You cannot control your thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive.
  • Spend at least 1 hour a day on these thoughts or behaviors.
  • You don’t get pleasure from performing the behaviors, but you may feel brief relief from the anxiety the thoughts cause.
  • You experience significant problems in your daily life due to these thoughts or behaviors.

Signs and Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

People can have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both; these can interfere with all aspects of life, such as work, school, and personal relationships.


(Note: Very young children may be unable to identify specific fearful thoughts or phobias. ) Some of the ideas that may go through the head of a person with the obsessive-compulsive disorder include:

  • Am I responsible for that accident?
  • What if I get sick?
  • If I don’t get an A on this test, my future will be ruined.
  • Am I attracted to that guy? Do I find him good-looking? This must mean that I am gay
  • What if I am sick, but I don’t know, and then I make my parents sick when I touch them?

physical symptoms

  • Stomach aches.
  • Dizziness.
  • Accelerated heart.
  • Shallow breathing
  • Headaches.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Short of breath.

Emotional symptoms

  • Anxiety, worry, fear. (Required item)
  • Sadness. (Required item)
  • Go to. (Required item)
  • Shame. (Required item)
  • Fault. (Required item)

Behavioral symptoms

  • Buy extra toilet paper or cleaning supplies.
  • Wash your hands and body excessively.
  • Repeat specific phrases or tasks in multiples of 2 or 4 times.
  • Doubting that something has been done correctly.
  • Avoid touching different objects.

How is obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosed?

Your doctor can do a physical exam and blood tests to ensure your symptoms are not caused by something else. They will also talk with you about your feelings, thoughts, and habits. If these prevent you from doing what you want to do for at least an hour a day, you may have this disorder.

Causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder

It is not clear exactly what causes it; several different factors can play a role in the condition.

These include:

  • Family history: You are  more likely to develop if a family member has it, possibly due to your genes
  • Differences in the brain:  Some people with this disorder have areas of unusually high activity in the brain or low levels of a chemical called serotonin
  • Life events:  Maybe more common in people who have been bullied, abused, or neglected and sometimes begin after a significant life event, such as childbirth or bereavement.
  • Personality:  Neat, meticulous, and organized people with high personal standards may be more likely to develop it, as are those who are generally quite anxious or have a strong sense of responsibility for themselves and others.

Treatments and therapies

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is usually treated with medication, psychotherapy, or both; although most patients respond to treatment, some patients continue to experience symptoms.

Sometimes people also have other mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and body dysmorphic disorder, a disorder in which someone mistakenly believes that a part of their body is abnormal. These other disorders are significant to consider when making treatment decisions.


Serotonin reuptake inhibitors and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors help reduce symptoms. Examples of medications that are effective in both adults and children include clomipramine, which is a member of an older class of ‘tricyclic’ antidepressants, and several newer ‘selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, including:

  • Fluoxetine.
  • Fluvoxamine.
  • Sertraline.


It can be an effective treatment for adults and children; research shows that certain types of psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy and other related therapies (for example, habit reversal training), can be as effective as medication. Read more about psychotherapy.

Conditions related to obsessive-compulsive disorder

Other conditions that share some characteristics occur more frequently in relatives of patients with the disorder. These include, for example, body dysmorphic disorder (preoccupation with imagined ugliness), hypochondriasis (concern for physical illness), trichotillomania (extraction of hair), and some eating disorders such as binge eating disorder and neurological disorders such as Tourette Syndrome.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.