Signs & symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
The main symptoms of OCD are recurrent obsessions or
compulsions that interfere with a person's life. The symptoms:
- take up more than one hour a day or
- cause marked distress or significant impairment.
At some point, the person is aware that the obsessions or
compulsions are excessive or unreasonable. Often, they feel ashamed.
Common obsessions include:
- fear of contamination (fear of dirt, germs, body fluids or
- repeated doubting (e.g., whether the stove is turned off)
- focus on exactness and order
- preoccupation with religious images and thoughts or fear of
having blasphemous thoughts
- fear of harming oneself or others
- fear of blurting out obscenities in public
- forbidden or unwanted sexual thoughts, images or urges.
Common compulsions include excessive:
- cleaning/washing (e.g., washing hands too often, cleaning
household items or other objects)
- checking (e.g., repeatedly checking paperwork for mistakes)
- ordering/arranging (e.g., making sure objects are in a
- hoarding (collecting seemingly useless items, such as paper,
magazines, towels, bottles or pieces of garbage)
- mental rituals, such as praying, counting, or repeating
Causes & risk factors
OCD appears to be caused by a combination of psychological,
biological and genetic factors.
One theory suggests that people with OCD associate certain
objects or situations with fear, and that they learn to avoid the things they
fear or to perform rituals that help reduce the fear. Another theory suggests
that people with OCD misinterpret their thoughts to an extent that they are
threatened and frightened by them.
Research into the biological causes and effects of OCD has
revealed a link between OCD and insufficient levels of the brain chemical
serotonin (a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating mood, aggression,
impulse control, sleep, appetite, body temperature and pain).
Researchers have also found that people with OCD appear to
have more than usual activity in areas of the brain that are thought to be
involved in controlling feelings and actions.
OCD seems to "run in the family."
Researchers are looking for genes that might be linked to OCD. One possibility
is that genes involved in regulating serotonin may be passed on through the
Adapted from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: An Information Guide © 2001 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.