Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition that causes a person to have intrusive, unwanted thoughts as well as compulsions, which means they feel they must do things in a very specific way in response to those thoughts.
OCD obsessions differ from normal obsessions in that they happen much more often, are intense and cause significant disruption to everyday life. People with OCD also attach a great deal of meaning to their thoughts and often feel fearful. In order to cope, they engage in repeated behaviors, known as compulsions.
Compulsions are the rituals that the person performs. A person acts or thinks in this way because they believe performing the ritual will help keep them or others safe, and may also help reduce anxiety. However, compulsions are excessive, not useful, and they do not prevent things from happening. Compulsions also take up so much time that they often cause significant disruptions at work, school and in relationships.
While there are no official classifications or subtypes of OCD, research suggests people experience OCD symptoms that fit into these four categories:
1. Washing and Contamination
2. Unacceptable Thoughts
3. Symmetry and Ordering
To help a doctor properly diagnose you or someone you care about, take note of the symptoms as well as when they are occurring. If you are noticing any of the problems listed here and they are not going away—or are becoming worse—make an appointment to see a mental health specialist or medical professional as soon as possible:
• Compulsions to wash hands, body and/or personal possessions
• Feeling dirty or unclean, both physically and mentally
• Highly specific cleaning rituals, like counting the number of times you wash your hands
• Severe anxiety about germs or sickness
• Severe anxiety about toxic substances
• Asking for reassurance that you won’t act on negative ideas
• Doubting your own sexual preferences
• Feeling guilty or shameful about your thoughts
• Ongoing sexual or violent thoughts
• Performing rituals to block out negative thoughts
• Persistent feelings you are bad or cause bad things to happen
• Religious obsessions
• Worry you will act on your intrusive thoughts or harm someone
Symmetry and Ordering
• Arranging, then rearranging items into a “better” order
• Believing something bad will happen if you don’t arrange something in the right way
• Counting rituals
• Insisting items must be organized in a specific way
• Needing similar items or activities to be symmetrical
• Buying multiples of the same item when only one is needed
• Checking or cataloging your possessions again and again
• Fear of throwing away something important by accident
• Severe anxiety if an item is lost or misplaced
• Stockpiling items you believe will protect you
• Worrying that throwing away something could cause harm
Note: People with any of these OCD types may use behavioral tics to help them cope, like blinking, twitching or persistent throat clearing. Because OCD is complex, treatment can be too. If you believe you or someone you know may have OCD, see a doctor so you can be evaluated and get the expert care you need.
According to the International OCD Foundation, the most effective treatments for OCD are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or medications, and approximately 70% of people will benefit from a form of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) and/or medication.
A medical professional can help a patient get prescription medications that can help manage OCD. Most medications prescribed to treat the anxiety associated with OCD are antidepressants. Examples include:
• Clomipramine (Anafranil)
• Fluoxetine (Prozac)
• Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
• Paroxetine (Paxil)
• Sertraline (Zoloft)
Not everyone reacts to medications in the same way, and finding the right medication to treat OCD may take some trial and error. In fact, up to half of all patients do not respond as desired (and some even experience adverse reactions) to the first psychiatric medication they’re prescribed. This is due in part to their individual genetic makeup (their DNA).
In very recent years, however, scientists have identified innovative ways to use genetic testing to help personalize medicine, so it better meets the needs of individual patients—and can help healthcare providers make informed treatment decisions for patients who have OCD.
The information revealed by a patient’s DNA can also help a doctor better understand if a patient might experience negative side effects or adverse drug reactions, and avoid those options.
This remarkable science is already helping people suffering from debilitating OCD, helping them gain peace of mind and better control of their lives, and be more informed than ever before.
With good information, you can better understand how these conditions may affect you, your loved one or your patient. The better informed you are, the better you can advocate. Learn more by clicking the topics below: