Mental HealthSigns and Symptoms of an OCD Diagnosis

An estimated 1 in every 100 adults suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Because not all forms of this condition present themselves the same way, it can be difficult to diagnose. Knowing the different types of OCD and their related symptoms can help you recognize the warning signs of OCD and take the necessary steps toward diagnosis.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder characterized by unreasonable and irrational thoughts and fears, also known as obsessions. These obsessions often lead to compulsive and habitual behaviors.

Most types of OCD focus on a particular idea or theme. For example, some people are controlled by their fear of germs or getting sick whereas others obsess over symmetry, numbers, or cleanliness. OCD symptoms can be mild at first and are often overlooked or go unnoticed. As they gradually get worse (which they often do), they may interfere with everyday life and the person’s ability to function. Treatment varies and can include therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.

Types of OCD

There are several different types of obsessive-compulsive disorder, with some falling into multiple categories and subcategories. The most common include:

  • Aggressive and sexual thoughts
  • Order and symmetry
  • Germs and contamination
  • Harm to self or loved ones
  • Doubt and incompleteness
  • Sin, religion, and mortality
  • Self-control

Common OCD Symptoms

Most types of OCD involve both obsessions and compulsions, though some people only experience one or the other. By taking a closer look at common obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, you may recognize which ones are negatively impacting your life.


OCD obsessions are considered persistent and unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that cause anxiety or distress. In an effort to eliminate these negative thoughts, you may feel compelled to perform compulsive, repetitive behaviors or rituals. For most people with OCD, these thoughts become all-consuming and often intrude on your normal train of thought and ability to perform everyday activities and responsibilities.

Examples of obsessive symptoms include:

  • Images of doing harm to yourself or others
  • Doubts over locking the door, turning off the oven, etc.
  • Immense stress when objects are not symmetrical, organized or aligned
  • Overwhelming fear over being contaminated by objects or other people
  • Fear of acting inappropriately in public
  • Unwanted or unpleasant sexual images and urges
  • Increased avoidance of certain situations that might trigger obsessive thoughts

The inability to stop these intrusive thoughts can cause extreme stress and anxiety in those with OCD. The more persistent these thoughts become, the more likely it is that you’ll perform compulsive, ritualistic behaviors in hopes of finding relief.

Compulsive Behaviors

Compulsive behaviors are defined as repetitive habits and rituals you feel driven to perform. These behaviors are triggered by the above-mentioned obsessive thoughts. Some people with OCD believe that performing these behaviors will prevent something bad from happening. The inability to act out these behaviors only adds to your mental distress. In most cases, these rituals do little to relieve anxiety or eliminate obsessive thoughts. These compulsions are excessive and have no real connection to the problem at hand.

Similar to obsessions that follow a certain theme, OCD compulsions often express themselves in one of the following ways:

  • Checking and counting items
  • Washing and cleaning hands and objects
  • Putting things in a specific order
  • Following a strict regiment or routine
  • A constant need for reassurance

Examples of compulsive behavior include:

  • Washing your skin so often or hard that it turns raw
  • Checking door and window locks in your house repeatedly
  • Checking the oven and other appliances to make sure they’re turned off
  • Repeating words or phrases to oneself
  • Counting items and actions in certain patterns or focusing on the same number
  • Organizing items in a symmetrical way

Properly Diagnosing OCD

The first step toward diagnosing OCD is knowing and noticing the symptoms and warning signs of the condition. Although you can’t definitively self-diagnose obsessive-compulsive disorder, being self-aware and honest about your symptoms is a good starting point. Free online OCD tests ask you several targeted questions that can reveal new information about your symptoms or give you further insight.

If you’ve experienced or expressed any of the above-mentioned symptoms, it may be time to visit a medical professional for an official diagnosis. These include psychiatrists, psychologists, and some family doctors. During your one-on-one evaluation, the healthcare professional will ask a variety of questions related to your thoughts and behaviors including their intensity, frequency, and duration.

Most therapists look for three main components when diagnosing OCD.

  1. Is the patient experiencing obsessive thoughts?
  2. Is the patient performing compulsive behaviors and rituals?
  3. Are these obsessions and compulsions taking up a lot of your time and getting in the way of important activities that provide value in your life? These include work, school, social activities, and hobbies.

It’s important to note that there’s a difference between liking routine, order, and cleanliness and having OCD. It’s completely normal and healthy to want your items neat and organized or to wash your hands to prevent germs or illness. It’s when these thoughts enter your mind at inappropriate times throughout the day or the desire to perform compulsive behaviors stops you from completing other important tasks that they may be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Living with OCD

An OCD diagnosis isn’t the end, it’s the beginning. By understanding and treating your OCD symptoms, you can regain control over your life. This is done by acknowledging and learning to control and overcome intrusive thoughts that trigger compulsions.

One of the most common ways to achieve this is through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches you to face, cope with, and change negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT is used to correct two specific associations related to OCD. One is the association between distress and the thoughts, situations, or objects that trigger that stress, and the second, is the belief that carrying out compulsive behaviors will decrease this stress.

CBT and other forms of therapy are just one way to treat OCD. Some patients require medication as well. A healthcare professional will evaluate your specific OCD diagnosis, including the type and severity, before creating an individualized treatment plan. With proper diagnosis and treatment, it’s possible to not only live with OCD but learn to overcome it.

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