Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental condition often called OCD. It causes a change in the way people think about simple activities, including leaving the house to go to work and washing their hands. Those suffering from the disorder also experience thoughts that they cannot get out of their minds. For example, if you have OCD, you may think that you left the iron on in your home even though you didn’t. Those repetitive thoughts will make it impossible for you to leave and do anything outside. Roughly 2.3 percent of adults and 1 percent of children suffer from OCD. When you or a loved one receives a diagnosis, you need to know what the disorder entails and what comes next.


One of the first things you need to understand is that there is a difference between a compulsion and an obsession. People often use the word “obsessed” today without thinking twice. They claim that they are obsessed with a new actor or a new show on Netflix without thinking about what the word really means. An obsession is any type of thought that is outside the norm. In addition to thoughts, an obsession can take the form of an image or an idea that keeps running through your mind.

The main characteristic of an obsession is that it will not make sense to others. While many people have no problem leaving their homes without checking on their appliances, those with OCD may worry that they left an appliance running and that they might burn down their homes because of it. Some people make attempts to stop thinking about it, which makes it even worse. You might set up reminders on your phone or follow a checklist and still worry about your home.

Some people diagnosed with this disorder have issues with things being perfect or exact. You might worry that someone you love will die if you don’t line up all your books in alphabetical order on a shelf. Those thoughts do not always relate to actions, though. Some find themselves obsessed with religious issues and think that a higher power is constantly watching them. Psychiatrists also see patients struggling with sexual thoughts and ideas. They are so concerned with those ideas that they cannot live a happy life.


While obsessions are more of a mental problem, compulsions are a physical problem. They refer to the behaviors and actions that an individual does in a repetitive way. Experts often refer to those actions as rituals because people perform the same tasks and actions every day. Though you may try to break your habits, you’ll often find that the attempt only makes things worse. For example, you may count the steps going up and down a flight of stairs. If someone stops to talk to you or anything distracts you, you may go back to the bottom or the top of the stairs and begin your count over again. There are different types of compulsions associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Ordering and Reordering

Many people like to rearrange their homes a few times a year because they want to change the look of each space. Those with OCD like things to remain the same. They will go to great lengths to keep their home in perfect order. You may find that you want all your books arranged in alphabetical order or that you prefer to arrange the clothing in your closet by color. If you find the wrong colored item in your closet or a book in the wrong spot, it can throw off your day and make it impossible for you to do anything until you fix the problem. This symptom can also apply to the way you arrange the furniture and decorations in your home, too.

Cleaning Rituals

One common type of ritual is associated with cleaning. Howard Hughes is just one infamous example of someone who was obsessed with cleaning. His obsession grew to the point where he lived in a clean home and limited the number of people who could come and go. Hughes also wore unique clothing because he was so worried about contamination. On a lesser scale, you may find that you need to wash your hands several times a day or that you need to go through a specific ritual when cleaning your clothes. OCD can make individuals want to clean their homes several times a day.

Mental Thoughts

Though physical obsessions are a common sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may suffer from problematic mental thoughts, too. With these thoughts, you need to keep repeating the same thought or word in your head several times. Instead of saying those phrases out loud, you simply say them in your brain. Those thoughts often go along with things that you think might happen. This might include thinking that a loved one will break his or her back or that you’ll fall down on your way to work unless you repeat the same thought dozens of times.

Repetitive Actions

Anxiety is a serious disorder that can affect the way you live your life. Though you may have anxious thoughts when you leave the house, anxiety can also manifest itself in your home or while you’re at work. Anxiety is related to the repetitive actions that people with OCD perform. Some examples include saying the same word or phrase several times or tapping your fingers a certain number of times on a table. Experts use the term repeating to explain the words and phrases that you say multiple times.

Checking is a symptom of OCD related to repetitive actions. This refers to any type of activity that you feel compelled to do multiple times. The best example is checking your appliances before you leave. You may feel as if something bad will happen if you don’t check those appliances several times. Some people have issues when it comes to driving because they follow specific routes. If any disturbance interferes with your regular route, you may have a difficult time adjusting. In cases of construction or car accidents, you may want to go back to your starting point and begin the path again.

Other Signs of OCD

Some of the other signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder can include:

  • An inability to control your thoughts or actions
  • Thoughts and behaviors that take up one or more hours of your day
  • Feeling only minor relief after going through your rituals
  • Rituals and actions that worsen over time or do not get better
  • Actions and thoughts that get in the way of your daily life

Are There Any Related Conditions?

Many people diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorders also exhibit the symptoms of other conditions. When you meet with a psychiatrist, the doctor can diagnose any related conditions. One condition is called Pica, which is when you feel compelled to eat items that you should not consume. Patients with Pica may eat strands of their hair, dirt from their yards and even loose change.

Hoarding is another related condition. Shows such as “Hoarders” demonstrate the severity of this disease. Hoarders think that they need to hold onto everything, and they cannot throw or give anything away. Some suffer this condition as a result of childhood trauma such as a fire that destroyed all their belongings. Working with a therapist is the best way for hoarders to recover.

Some people with the obsessive-compulsive disorder also exhibit signs of body dysmorphic disorder, which causes them to hate the way their bodies look. They may suffer from a disorder that causes them to pull their hair.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Some research indicates that obsessive-compulsive disorder may occur as the result of your genes. If you have a parent with OCD, you have an increased chance of developing the disorder. This is also true of families with a close history of the disorder. If you have a sibling with the disorder, your chances of developing it increase. The risk factor increases even more among families where someone developed the disorder at a young age. There is also a link between trauma in childhood and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The disorder often affects those who suffered sexual or physical abuse. They develop rituals as a way to cope with their feelings and carry those rituals into adulthood.

Diagnosing the Disorder

Psychiatrists and other doctors use a physical exam to diagnosis obsessive-compulsive disorder. You typically need to exhibit symptoms for six months to a year or more in order to be diagnosed with OCD. The physical exam helps the doctor rule out any underlying conditions that can mimic the symptoms of the disorder. A traumatic brain injury or a brain tumor can cause you to hear voices and feel compelled to do things that you would not otherwise do. You may need to undergo blood tests, too, which the doctor will use to check for signs of other diseases.

Dangers of the Disorder

It’s important that you learn about the dangers of the disorder and how it can impact your life. One of the more common dangers of obsessive-compulsive disorder is that it can impact your life. The rituals you do, thoughts you think and actions you take can keep you from holding down a full-time job. You may find it impossible to go to school or spend time with your family and friends. The disorder can also cause dermatitis and other health conditions because of how often you wash your hands or use cleaning products. You may experience suicidal thoughts.

Current Treatments

Some of the treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder include:

  • Therapy
  • Prescription medication

More than 60 percent of patients experience relief when taking prescription medications. Medications can help you manage your symptoms, but it is not a magic cure for the disorder. You may still experience symptoms in the future, which is why you need to work with a therapist or a psychiatrist. The doctor can help you manage your symptoms and deal with your daily rituals. Most doctors recommend that you use the medication in combination with therapy.

Cognitive behavior therapy, or CBT, is the top choice for patients struggling with this disorder. It focuses on changing the way you respond to certain thoughts. CBT often includes exposure and response situations, the idea being that exposing yourself to different forms of stimuli can help you learn how to change the focus of your thoughts. A doctor will work with you to identify any triggers such as meeting someone new at work or hearing a song that you associate with childhood trauma. You’ll slowly learn how to adjust your thoughts and responses based on those triggers.

This type of therapy also includes cognitive therapy, which teaches you how to focus your thoughts. If you worry that you might slip and fall while getting out of the shower, the therapist will encourage you to think about all the times you successfully got out of the shower without falling. Cognitive therapy can also work on similar methods of thought. You can think about how often you drove to work without getting in an accident or how many times you left the house without anything bad occurring.

Some patients find help through metacognitive therapy, too. This type of therapy teaches you how to mentally remove yourself from a thought or situation that might cause a negative reaction. You learn how to focus on other tasks and thoughts rather than the one running through your mind.

OCD is a lifelong condition that causes symptoms such as compulsions and obsessions. Though medication can help, there isn’t a cure that works for everyone. The chances are good that you will keep exhibiting symptoms of the disorder in the future, but therapy can help you manage those symptoms. If you show any signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder or see those symptoms in a loved one, you can talk to a therapist at a treatment center to find out what you can and should do.

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