Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unreasonable thoughts and fears called obsessions that lead you to do repetitive behaviors which is referred to as compulsions. OCD often centers on themes. Despite efforts to ignore or get rid of bothersome thoughts, the thoughts or urges keep coming back. This leads to more ritualistic behavior and a vicious cycle that's characteristic of OCD.
OCD symptoms usually include both obsessions and compulsions. But it's also possible to have only obsession symptoms or only compulsion symptoms. About one-third of people with OCD also have a disorder that includes sudden, brief, intermittent movements or sounds. OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent and unwanted urges or images that cause distress or anxiety. You might try to get rid of them by performing a compulsion or ritual. These obsessions typically intrude when you're trying to think of or do other things. Examples of obsession signs and symptoms include:
Fear of being contaminated by shaking hands or by touching objects others have touched
Doubts that you've locked the door or turned off the stove
Intense stress when objects aren't orderly or facing a certain way
Images of hurting yourself or someone else
Thoughts about shouting obscenities or acting inappropriately
Avoidance of situations that can trigger obsessions, such as shaking hands
Distress about unpleasant sexual images repeating in your mind
OCD compulsions are repetitive behaviors that you feel driven to perform. These repetitive behaviors are meant to prevent or reduce anxiety related to your obsessions or prevent something bad from happening. However, engaging in the compulsions brings no pleasure and may offer only a temporary relief from anxiety. Examples of compulsion signs and symptoms include:
Hand-washing until your skin becomes raw
Checking doors repeatedly to make sure they're locked
Checking the stove repeatedly to make sure it's off
Counting in certain patterns
Silently repeating a prayer, word or phrase
Arranging your canned goods to face the same way
Symptoms usually begin gradually and tend to vary in severity throughout your life. Symptoms generally worsen when you're experiencing more stress. OCD, considered a lifelong disorder, can be so severe and time-consuming that it becomes disabling. If your obsessions and compulsions are affecting your quality of life, see your doctor or mental health provider. People with OCD may be ashamed and embarrassed about the condition, but treatment can help.
Factors that may increase the risk of developing or triggering obsessive-compulsive disorder include family history or stressful life events. Having parents or other family members with the disorder can increase your risk of developing OCD. If you've experienced traumatic or stressful events or you tend to react strongly to stress, your risk may increase. This reaction may, for some reason, trigger the intrusive thoughts, rituals and emotional distress characteristic of OCD.
To help diagnose OCD, your doctor or mental health provider may do exams and tests, including: physical and psychological exams and lab tests. Lab tests may include, for example, a complete blood count (CBC), screening for alcohol and drugs, and a check of your thyroid function. In order to be diagnosed with OCD you must meet certain criteria. The criteria includes:
General criteria required for a diagnosis of OCD include:
You must have either obsessions or compulsions or both.
You may or may not realize that your obsessions and compulsions are excessive or unreasonable.
Obsessions and compulsions are significantly time-consuming and interfere with your daily routine and social or work functioning.
Your obsessions must meet these criteria:
Recurrent, persistent and unwelcome thoughts, impulses or images are intrusive and cause distress.
You try to ignore these thoughts, images or impulses or to suppress them with compulsive behaviors.