OCD Symptoms (13+ obvious signs)

In this guide the OCD symptoms, causes, types and treatment of OCD symptoms.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder that disturbs people of any age and occurs when a person experiences a cycle of obsessions and compulsions.

It is a common, enduring, and lifelong disorder in which a person suffers from thoughts (obsessions) that are uncontrollable and reoccurring and/or behaviours (compulsions) that he or she feels the need to repeat again and again.

When OCD is diagnosed?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is diagnosed when obsessions and compulsions

  • takes extreme amounts of time (an hour or more per day)
  • cause excessive distress
  • interrupts the functioning of an individual at school or work, with society and social gatherings, daily routine, and relationships with family and friends.

When Obsessive-compulsive symptoms are present, it is vital to consult a knowledgeable mental health professional who is qualified about OCD symptoms for assessment and treatment.

OCD Symptoms

People suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both that disrupt all aspects of life, such as daily life, school, work, and interpersonal relationships.

What are Obsessions?

Obsessions are repetitive patterns of thoughts and urges that evokes anxiety.

Following are the common symptoms:

  • Fear of germs or contamination
  • Unwanted thoughts, feelings and urges related to sexual content such as obsessions about homosexuality, sexual thoughts involving a child or aggressive sexual behaviour.
  • Fear related to religion and morals such as extreme concern with right or wrong.
  • Fear of harm and causing harm to oneself or others
  • Thoughts about placing the things in a perfect symmetrical order.

What are Compulsions?

Compulsions are behaviours that the individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder feels the need to do in a repetitive pattern in response to an obsessive thought.

Following are some of the common compulsions:

Washing and cleaning are excessively such as excessive showering, bathing and toilet routine.

Repeatedly washing the hands or using hand-sanitizer, avoid touching the things that are dirty or may have been touched by others e.g. doorknobs, desks, soap, avoid using the public washrooms, etc.

  • Arranging or placing the things in a particularly precise way or order.
  • Checking the things repeatedly such as checking door locks again and again
  • Checking repeatedly to ensure that the person did not/will not harm oneself.
  • Avoiding people and places because of the fear of causing harm to others.
  • Incontrollable counting.

OCD with tic disorder

People suffering from Obsessive-compulsive disorder may also have a tic disorder. Motor tics are unexpected, short-lived and repetitive movements.

These may include eye blinking and other eye movements, facial grimacing, shoulder shrugging, and jerking of head or shoulder.

Common vocal tics include repetitive throat-clearing, snuffling, or grumbling sounds.

The following are the disorders that are included in obsessive-compulsive and related disorder according to DSM-5.

  • Excoriation (Skin Pricking Disorder): In this disorder, the individual is involved in recurrent pricking of the skin. This causes skin lesions and infections. The person also attempts repeatedly to stop or decrease skin pricking. It also results in clinically significant distress. Almost 1 to 2 per cent of the population suffers from skin picking disorder.
  • Trichotillomania (Hair-Pulling Disorder): In hair pulling disorder, the person is involved in persistent pulling of hairs from the head, eyelashes, eyebrows, and other parts of the body with hairs. The individual also repeated attempts to stop or decrease hair pulling. This also leads to clinically significant distress. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and habit reversal training are used as a treatment for this disorder. 
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder: The person suffering from body dysmorphic disorder is preoccupied with having one or more imperfections or defects in physical appearance. These defects in appearances are not noticeable to others or they appear only slightly. The individuals with this disorder are involved in repetitive behaviours such as excessive grooming, checking their appearance in the mirror, seeking reassurance from others or mental acts that includes comparing own appearance to others constantly. Body dysmorphic disorder has a subtype called Muscle dysmorphia. In muscle dysmorphia, a person thinks that his or her body is not muscular enough or is too small.
  • Substance/Medication-induced obsessive-compulsive and related disorder or Obsessive-compulsive and related disorder due to Another Medical Condition: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms may develop as a result of substance or medications. The development of OCD symptoms is also associated with certain medical and neurological state.

Postpartum OCD symptoms (PPOCD)

According to an estimate, two to three per cent of new mothers suffer from postpartum OCD symptoms which perhaps is not widely known.

Women suffering from this disorder may have obsessive thoughts about her baby’s safety. 

Following are the symptoms of PPOCD:

excessive washing and sterilizing of baby bottles

  • Excessive washing of baby clothes, or repeated washing of other family members’ clothes.
  • keeping the baby in isolation so that family members or others may not “contaminate” the baby
  • repeatedly checking the baby
  • fears of harming the baby

A new mother is expected by the family members and friends to be cheerful and happy.

But what society doesn’t understand is that PPOCD causes a new mother to feel overwhelmed and tired. PPOCD that are left untreated can have an adverse effect on a mother’s ability to take care of her child and severely drain her marriage and relationships with family, friends, and others.

An effective treatment is available that can help a new mother suffering from Postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder.

This treatment can enable her to manage her symptoms. Medications (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) are included in treatment.

The risks of serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) to the unborn children and breast-feeding babies are not yet well known although SRIs are considered as an effective treatment for OCD symptoms.

It is vital to discuss these likely risks with the psychiatrist. Cognitive behaviour therapy is considered to be a safer and effective treatment approach as compared to medications for non-postpartum OCD symptoms.

Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder may come and go, become less severe with time, or may worsen.

Individuals suffering from OCD symptoms may avoid the situations that activate their obsessions. They may also use alcohol or drugs in order to calm themselves.

Most of the adults suffering from OCD symptoms know about their symptoms and that they don’t make any sense while some adults and most children with OCD symptoms may not understand that whatever they are doing is out of ordinary.

Parents or teachers of children with OCD symptoms are typically able to recognize the symptoms.

Risk factors

Everyone from adults, adolescents to children are affected by OCD symptoms.

It is diagnosed in most people at about age 19. The onset of OCD symptoms in boys is at an earlier age as compared to girls.

The onset of OCD symptoms after age 35 years is rare but it does occur.

The causes of Obsessive-compulsive disorder are not known but the following are risk factors that contribute to OCD symptoms:


According to twin and family studies, if first-degree relatives like a parent (mother or father), sibling, or a child of a person have OCD symptoms then those individuals are at a higher risk for acquiring OCD symptoms themselves.

The risk becomes even higher if the OCD symptoms in first-degree relatives had an onset during early childhood or teen years.

Further researches are being carried out to observe the connection between OCD symptoms and genetics.

This may aid to improve the diagnosis and treatment of OCD symptoms.

Brain Structure and Functioning

According to researches, OCD symptoms may be a result of abnormal brain circuitry function.

However, further researches are in progress.

One of the studies shows that the brain of people with OCD symptoms have 32 per cent higher inflammation of brain tissues as compared to others.

Imaging studies were performed that show that people with OCD symptoms have differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures in the brain.

A connection exists between abnormalities in certain areas of brain and OCD symptoms however it is not clear.

Researches are being done to understand this connection.


Some studies show that a relationship exists between obsessive-compulsive symptoms and childhood trauma.

In order to understand this association better, more research is required.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD symptoms may be experienced in some cases of children as a result of Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS). Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections is a streptococcal infection.

Treatment for Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

A number of factors are involved while choosing a treatment for OCD symptoms. These factors include:

  • Sort of treatment method that was helpful in the past
  • The kind of attitude of the individual toward medication
  • Level of motivation of the individual to experience cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) or exposure response prevention (ERP)
  • The severity level of OCD symptoms of an individual
  • Comorbidity i.e. the presence of the other disorders along with Obsessive-compulsive disorder such as depression.

In general, Cognitive behaviour therapy, exposure-response prevention, and medications may be combined to evoke a response from most OCD types.

One of the OCD type known as hoarding disorder does not respond to medication but seem to improve with psychotherapy.


Medications for OCD symptoms include Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs). SRIs include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that help to decrease OCD symptoms.

The treatment of OCD symptoms involves high doses of SRIs on a daily basis.

These doses are higher than those taken for treating depression. They may take 8 to 12 weeks to show their effects.

However, some patients with OCD symptoms may show more quick improvement.

Headache, nausea, and difficulty falling asleep are caused as side effects of these medications.

Antipsychotic medications are used for individuals whose symptoms do not improve with SSRIs.

According to researches, these individuals may respond well to antipsychotic medications.

The following points should be considered if an individual is prescribed a medication.

  • Make sure by talking with the doctor that the person understands the risks and benefits of the medications that he/she is using.
  • Never discontinue a medication without consulting the doctor first as it may result in “rebounding” or deteriorating of OCD symptoms.
  • In case of any side effects that are being experienced, tell the doctor right away.


Psychotherapy is used for adults and children with OCD symptoms as an effective treatment approach.

According to research, cognitive behaviour therapy and habit reversal training are very effective for treating OCD symptoms.

Symptoms of OCD can be reduced by using a form of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP).


In short, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental disorder that affects people of all age groups.

It can be treated through medications and psychotherapy along with support from family and friends.

Frequently Asked Questions about OCD symptoms

What are the 4 types of OCD?

The 4 types of OCD are, contamination, doubts, symmetry, counting, and unacceptable taboo thoughts.

Is OCD a serious mental illness?

OCD is a serious mental illness as its unwanted thoughts don’t easily go away, and cause discomfort in a person’s life.

What triggers OCD?

OCD triggers could be environmental, physicological and abnormality of brain functioning.

Is OCD an addiction?

No, checking things over and over again, counting, cleaning or ordering repeatedly may seem like an addiction but these chores are done without getting a pleasure instead they are non-pleasurable for a person.

Please feel free to ask any questions related to OCD and leave your comments and suggestions in the comments section below.



Very Well Mind


Beyond OCD

The Mindfulness Workbook for OCD: A Guide to Overcoming Obsessions and Compulsions Using Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (A New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)

Everyday Mindfulness for OCD: Tips, Tricks, and Skills for Living Joyfully

Overcoming Unwanted Intrusive Thoughts: A CBT-Based Guide to Getting Over Frightening, Obsessive, or Disturbing Thoughts

When a Family Member Has OCD: Mindfulness and Cognitive Behavioral Skills to Help Families Affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The OCD Workbook: Your Guide to Breaking Free from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (A New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook)