Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) - Symptoms

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What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and what are OCD symptoms?

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by the sufferer experiencing repeated obsessions and/or compulsions that interfere with the person's ability to function socially, occupationally, or educationally, either as a result of the amount of time that is consumed by the symptoms or the marked fear or other distress suffered by the person. Conventional knowledge is that there are four types of OCD: obsessions that are aggressive, involve sexual or religious thoughts, or are harm-related with checking compulsions; obsessions about symmetry that are accompanied by arranging or repeating compulsions; obsessions of contamination are associated with cleaning compulsions; and symptoms of hoarding.

An obsession is defined as a recurrent thought, impulse, or image that either recurs or persists and causes severe anxiety. These thoughts are irresistible to the OCD sufferer despite the person's usually realizing that these thoughts are irrational. Examples of obsessions include worries about germs/cleanliness or about safety or order. A compulsion is a ritual/behavior that the individual with OCD engages in repeatedly, either because of their obsessions or according to a rigid set of rules. The aforementioned obsessions may result in compulsions like excessive hand washing, skin picking, lock checking, or repeatedly arranging items. Different than the repetitive behaviors of compulsions, habits are behaviors that occur with little to no thought, are repeated routinely, are not done in response to an obsession, are not particularly time-consuming, and do not cause stress. Examples of habits include cracking knuckles or storing car keys in a coat pocket.

The diagnosis of OCD has been described in medicine for at least the past 100 years. Statistics on the number of people in the United States who have OCD range from 1%-2%, or more than 2-3 million adults. Many famous people suffer from OCD. Interestingly, the frequency with which it occurs and the symptoms with which it presents are remarkably similar, regardless of the culture of the sufferer. The average age of onset of the disorder is 19 years, although it often begins during the childhood or the teenage years and usually develops by 30 years of age. It tends to afflict more males than females.

Symptoms of OCD in children do not always include an understanding that their obsessions or compulsions are unreasonable. They might also have tantrums when prevented from completing rituals. Also in contrast to symptoms in adults, those in children and teenagers tend to include physical complaints like tiredness, headaches and stomach upset.

Individuals with OCD are more likely to also develop chronic hair pulling (trichotillomania), muscle or vocal tics (Tourette's disorder), or an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. OCD sufferers are also predisposed to developing other mood problems, like depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. OCD puts its sufferers at a higher risk of having excessive concerns about their bodies (somatoform disorders) like hypochondriasis, which is excessive worry about having a serious illness. People with OCD are more vulnerable to having bipolar disorder, also called manic depression.

Although sometimes confused with OCD, obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is defined by perfectionism and an unbending expectation that the individual and others will keep a specific set of rules. OCPD sufferers do not tend to engage in ritualized behaviors (compulsions). However, OCPD tends to occur more often in people with OCD than in those without and therefore can be considered another risk factor for the development of obsessive compulsive disorder.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: cindyartist3, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: August 20

I have to check and recheck things in order to assure myself that things are done. I make a list and check things off so I know I have done them, but I still have to check and recheck things. I need to keep all doors, fences, gates locked. I must have everything clean, neat, and in order and I have to do everything in the same exact order. If anything or anyone interrupts me, I have to begin all over again.

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Comment from: Zeshan, 19-24 Male (Patient) Published: January 31

I got obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) when I was 16. My life totally changed. From then on I hate myself. I have thoughts again and again in my brain I could not stop when I think about sex or other dirty things. I wash my eyes and ears with soap. Also it gives me so much pain but I could not stop I don't know what to do or where to go. I am so hopeless, my life is ruined due to this OCD.

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