Symptoms of OCD
OCD symptoms vary from mild to severe. They include obsessions (thoughts or feelings) that make you feel distressed or anxious, and compulsions (actions) which you feel necessary to perform to cancel out the obsession. It is most common to have both obsessions and compulsions, but you can also have either alone. You may have more than one obsession and/or compulsion.
The most common obsessions are:
- thinking or feeling objects are dirty or contaminated
- worrying about health and hygiene
- fear about safety and security, for example, doors left unlocked or appliances left switched on
- pre-occupation with order and symmetry
- religious or anti-religious thoughts
- disturbing thoughts about aggression or sex
- the urge to hoard useless things
You may carry out compulsive behaviours to counteract the anxiety caused by your obsessions. These may be obvious actions, or just things you do in your mind.
The most common compulsions are:
- checking to make sure things are safe (such as gas taps and locks)
- cleaning and washing, either yourself (eg, hand washing), or your surroundings
- repeating acts in a particular way
- mental compulsions (eg, repeating certain phrases or prayers in your mind)
- ordering things for symmetry or exactness
- hoarding or collecting things that are useless
Compulsions are usually related to the type of obsession you are experiencing. For example, you may repeatedly wash your hands if you have obsessions about dirt or contamination. You may feel that something terrible will happen if you don't carry out your compulsions. Performing the compulsion may make you feel better in the short term but this feeling doesn't last.
People with OCD are usually, but not always, aware that their thoughts or actions are unreasonable. It's common to feel guilty, disgusted, depressed or embarrassed about it. Compulsive behaviours can be very time consuming, often getting in the way of normal work and family life.
If you have OCD you may also have depression. This may be due to the emotional strain of dealing with obsessions, or because OCD and depression involve similar chemical imbalances in the brain.
OCD can upset your family life or damage your relationship with a partner, which may lead to separation or divorce.
Causes of OCD
The exact cause of OCD isn't known, but it's probably due to a combination of factors.
Sometimes OCD runs in families. So if your mother, father, or sibling has OCD you have a higher chance of developing it.
Life events such as a new child, changes in relationships or death of a close relative may trigger OCD in some people. Particular personality types, especially perfectionists, are more prone to OCD.
OCD has been linked to increased activity in certain parts of the brain and a decreased level of a natural chemical called serotonin. This chemical is important in the control of mood.
In some children, OCD develops after a streptococcal infection - a type of bacterial infection.
Diagnosis of OCD
OCD can be extremely distressing. If you feel your life is being affected by the disorder, you should visit a doctor.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history. You may be referred to a psychiatrist (a doctor who specialises in mental health), a psychotherapist or a counsellor for further help.