Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Diagnosis and Treatment
Learn about the details, causes, symptoms, and treatment options for obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Table of Contents
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
In the United States, approximately 1.2% of adults were diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder. About 50% of these adults had an OCD diagnosis classified as serious. OCD is a long-lasting mental health disorder that involves reoccurring behaviors and thoughts.1
Overview of OCD
Different Types of OCD
If a person with OCD is excessively checking things, they are demonstrating a compulsion. This fear-based obsession may be surrounding memories, door locks, house alarms, stoves, water taps, fires, electrical appliances, re-reading texts, or checking valuable items. Checking is a repetitive compulsion that can last upwards of an hour in some cases. For people with OCD, checking may significantly impact the person’s school, social, or work obligations.
If a person fears contamination or the feeling of being dirty, they are displaying an obsessional worry. Typically, a person obsessing over contamination believes it might harm them or their loved ones. Related compulsion behaviors can include hours of cleaning after sexual intercourse, showering after exposure to outside air, and excessive tooth brushing.3
Symmetry and Ordering
Orderliness and symmetry constitute the third category of OCD types. This type of OCD involves having everything just right to prevent something bad from happening or feelings of discomfort. Facing items the same way, keeping everything neat at all times, and having everything spotless are all examples of this type of OCD. Symmetry and ordering can be highly time-consuming and physically and mentally draining for the person.
Ruminations and Intrusive Thoughts
For someone with OCD, rumination is defined as a “train of prolonged thinking about a question or theme that is undirected and unproductive.” Ruminations can involve religion, philosophy, morality, and what happens after death. Although everyone experiences positive and negative intrusive thoughts, people with OCD typically experience unpleasant and repetitive intrusive thoughts. A few examples of intrusive thoughts include constantly seeking reassurance from one’s significant other, violently harming someone, and dwelling on superstitious beliefs.
Causes and Symptoms
Causes of OCD
Although extensive research has been conducted, the exact cause(s) of OCD is still unknown. Nonetheless, research has suggested that biology, genetics, learning, and brain structure play a role.4
- Genetics: OCD has been found to run in families. Therefore, researchers believe that genetics are partially responsible for causing the disorder.4
- Brain Structure and Functioning: Researchers believe that OCD involves communication breakages between the front of a person’s brain and the deeper structures in the brain.4
- Biology: Current research does suggest that OCD is a biological disease. Brain imaging studies have shown hyperactivity in specific brain regions when individuals have OCD.5
- Learning: According to the Learning Theory, some researchers believe that OCD results from an individual’s learned behavior patterns and negative thoughts.6
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and OCD symptoms are classified as obsessions and compulsions. The following sections will provide definitions and examples of these two terms.
Reoccurring thoughts, mental images, and urges that cause anxiety are obsessions. Common obsession symptoms are aggressive thoughts, having things in perfect order, fear of germs, and unwanted thoughts involving sex, religion, or violence.
A person with OCD has the urge to perform repetitive behaviors in response to their obsessive thoughts. Examples of compulsions are excessive handwashing, ordering things a particular way, checking on things repetitively, and compulsively counting.
How to Diagnose Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Diagnostic Criteria for OCD
In general, to meet diagnostic criteria for obsessive-compulsive disorder, an individual must present obsessions or compulsions. The person must have at least one compulsion or obsession that is considered excessive or unreasonable, causing distress or significantly interfering with the person’s life.7
Treatment Options for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Intensive Outpatient and Residential Treatment Programs
Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS)
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)
- Citalopram (Celexa): Citalopram is a common antidepressant prescribed to treat OCD symptoms.
- Escitalopram (Lexapro): Escitalopram is an OCD medication used alongside therapy.
- Fluoxetine (Prozac): Obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment providers often prescribe fluoxetine for clients.
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox): Fluvoxamine or Luvox is used to treat individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms.
- Paroxetine (Paxil): Medication management providers often prescribe paroxetine to patients diagnosed with OCD.
- Sertraline (Zoloft): Sertraline is a common antidepressant approved for use as an OCD medication.
Lifestyle and Home Remedies
- Learn About OCD: As with any medical diagnosis, knowledge and education are key to making empowered decisions for one’s health. People should never be afraid to ask questions or seek help if they are experiencing OCD-related symptoms.
- Practice What Is Learned: A crucial part of therapy is completing the homework assignments and doing the work every day.
- Take Medications as Directed: Medication for OCD and treatment plans are excellent resources for managing OCD. Be sure to take medications as prescribed and discuss desired changes with a doctor before making any changes.
- Stick With Regular Activities: Routine is essential for completing homework assigned by a counselor. Taking medications, therapy appointments, and self-care are all other crucial components of keeping a routine.
- Find Healthy Outlets: Healthy outlets, including hobbies, exercise, social activities, and self-help groups, are necessary for managing obsessive-compulsive disorder.