Obsessive compulsive disorder - Symptoms 

Symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) 

Quality of life

OCD can stop you carrying out normal day-do-day activities.

This can have an impact on your career or studies, and could affect your quality of life and your income if, for example, you are unable to work.

It is therefore important that you seek help. With the correct diagnosis and treatment, you should be able to manage your condition and improve your quality of life.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) affects people differently, but usually causes a particular pattern of thought and behaviour.

Most people with OCD tend to follow a set pattern of thought and behaviour. This pattern has four main steps:

  • obsession  where your mind is overwhelmed by a constant obsessive fear or concern, such as the fear your house will be burgled
  • anxiety  the obsession provokes a feeling of intense anxiety and distress
  • compulsion  you then adopt a pattern of compulsive behaviour to reduce your anxiety and distress, such as checking all the windows and doors are locked at least three times before you leave your house
  • temporary relief  the compulsive behaviour brings temporary relief from anxiety, but the obsession and anxiety soon return, causing the pattern or cycle to begin again

Obsessive thoughts

Almost everyone has unpleasant or unwanted thoughts at some point in their life, such as a nagging worry that their job may not be secure, or a brief suspicion their partner has been unfaithful.

Most people are able to put these types of thoughts and concerns into context, and they can carry on with their day-to-day life. They do not repeatedly think about worries they know have little substance.

However, if you have a persistent, unwanted and unpleasant thought that dominates your thinking to the extent it interrupts other thoughts, you may have developed an obsession.

Some common obsessions that affect people with OCD include:

  • fear of deliberately harming yourself or others  for example, fear you may attack someone else, even though this type of behaviour disgusts you
  • fear of harming yourself or others by mistake or accident  for example, fear you may set the house on fire by accidentally leaving the cooker on, which leads you to repeatedly check kitchen appliances are off
  • fear of contamination by disease, infection or an unpleasant substance
  • a need for symmetry or orderliness  for example, you may feel the need to ensure all the labels on the tins in your cupboard face the same way
  • fear of committing an act that would seriously offend your religious beliefs

Compulsive behaviour

Compulsions arise as a way of trying to reduce or prevent the harm of the obsessive thought. However, this behaviour is either excessive or not realistically connected at all.

For example, a person who fears becoming contaminated with dirt and germs may wash their hands 50 times a day, or someone with a fear of causing harm to their family may have the urge to repeat an action multiple times to try to "neutralise" the thought of harm. This latter type of compulsive behaviour is particularly common in children with OCD.

Most people with OCD realise that such compulsive behaviour is irrational and makes no logical sense, but they cannot stop acting on their compulsion.

Some common types of compulsive behaviour that affect people with OCD include:

  • cleaning
  • handwashing
  • checking (such as checking doors are locked, or that the gas or a tap is off) 
  • counting
  • ordering and arranging
  • hoarding 
  • asking for reassurance
  • needing to confess
  • repeating words silently
  • prolonged thoughts about the same subject
  • "neutralising" thoughts (to counter the obsessive thoughts)

Page last reviewed: 05/10/2012

Next review due: 05/10/2014


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The 3 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

bealrite said on 17 March 2013

I anonymous123 I no how u feel but u really should go to the docs. I started with ocd wen I was 11 and obviously I didn't no what it was I was just terrified that something bad was going to happen to my family if I didn't turn the light on and off 7 times, hold my breath or make silly loud noises or sometimes all three as time went on I became worse my family thought I was just being silly and would grow out of it I really wanted them to be right. By the age of 16 I had become confined to my house after leaving school my family were very worried and I wouldn't go to docs as I thought I was completely. Insane and that they would lock me away. By the age of 17 my sister forced me to go as I had no live anymore it was the best thing anyone could have done for me the doc told me I had ocd I had heard of this before but thought it meant u just washed ur hands a lot. Anyway he gave me sertraline meds and sent me from see a councillor the medication changed my life and I felt happy for the first time in for what felt like forever I. Still had some compulsions to do certain things but could cope with that compared to how it was taking over my life I am no 31 and although over the years it has come back a bit more and a bit more I am still no were near as bad as I was. So please go to the docs it is scary but once u get in there and tell them everything u will wonder what u were worried about and kick yourself for not going sooner I hope this helps goodluck x

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Anoymous123 said on 01 March 2013

I also want to get help, but I'm too embarassed to ask my GP, I know of some mental health centre I wonder if they could help me.

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lyndaof2 said on 18 May 2012

How can I get the help that I need for hoarding, just do not know were or who to turn to get the help that I need. It is just all getting out of hand.

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