OCD Symptoms

Obsessions, Compulsions, Diagnosis and Treatment

OCD Symptoms
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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent symptoms, primarily obsessions, and compulsions. Proper diagnosis and treatment of these OCD symptoms can bring relief.


Obsessions are unwanted thoughts, images, or ideas that won't go away and that cause extreme distress. For example, you might worry constantly about unlikely scenarios, such as becoming contaminated with a deadly disease, unintentionally screaming out an obscenity at a funeral, or that something horrible will happen to a loved one. Other common obsessions can include a need for extreme order; repeated doubts, such as believing you may hit someone with your car; aggressive or disturbing ideas, such as thoughts of murdering your partner or child; or disturbing sexual and religious imagery.


Compulsions are behaviors that you feel you must carry out repeatedly. For example, if you are obsessed with contamination, you might wash your hands over and over again. Other common compulsions include cleaning, counting, checking, requesting or demanding reassurance, and ensuring order and symmetry.

OCD Symptom Types

The way in which OCD symptoms are experienced varies widely from person to person. There are many OCD symptom subtypes, which can vary depending on when the OCD occurs. Finally, OCD symptoms can appear in response to very specific circumstances, such as infection or the birth of a child.

Compulsive Hoarding

Pathological or compulsive hoarding is a common OCD symptom. Hoarding is defined as acquiring -- and failing to throw out -- a large number of items that would appear to have little or no value to others. It often includes severe cluttering that gets in the way of home, work and/or social life.

Diagnosing OCD Symptoms

Although OCD symptoms are accepted as having biological roots, symptoms can't be diagnosed using a blood sample, X-ray or another medical test. A mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, family doctor or nurse with special training will usually make a diagnosis of OCD using medical judgment and experience.

Treating OCD Symptoms

OCD symptoms were once thought of as difficult to treat, but in reality, more than two-thirds of people with OCD respond well to treatment, including medication, cognitive-behavioral therapy, surgery and self-help strategies. Discuss with your healthcare provider which treatment option may be best for you, so you can start to reduce the amount of anxiety in your life.

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Article Sources
  • American Psychiatric Association. "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text revision" 2000 Washington, DC: Author.