Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Signs and Symptoms

November 12, 2012

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Signs and Symptoms

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness and an anxiety disorder. It can affect children and adults. OCD gets worse over time if left untreated. People with OCD tend to hide their symptoms from their loved ones in order to avoid being thought of as “crazy.” This can make it difficult for OCD patients to get the treatment that they need.

People suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder develop rituals to ward off real or imagined fears. These fears become obsessions. The classic OCD ritual is washing hands hundreds of times a day in order to remove germs. Pressure to perform these rituals become so intense that a person with OCD feels they are left with no alternative but to perform them. The most famous person with OCD was the eccentric aviator-millionaire Howard Hughes. It is estimated that 1 in every 50 people suffers from OCD.

Subtle Ritualizing

The classic symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder is the development of rituals. These can be as subtle as making sure the fringes of a throw rug all point in the same direction or as obvious as washing their hands and using hand sanitizer excessively. Other symptoms could include seemingly normal actions as:

  • Constantly checking up on another household member to be sure that person is all right

  • Going back to check if the house doors are locked immediately after taking a few steps away from the home

  • Aligning furniture, collectables or books in a book case in a particular way, often calling it “just so”

  • Cleaning the home or car multiple times a day

When confronted, a person with obsessive compulsive disorder often cannot logically explain why they persist in these behaviors but refuse to give them up.

Extreme Ritualizing

These rituals have become so bizarre that they can endanger a person’s life. For example, in Howard Hughes’ later life, he refused to urinate in a toilet and instead used large jars or bottles. Other people may refuse to throw out decaying food or become hoarders of rotting clothes and moldy papers.

Other people may turn in circles, count to a certain number or have to knock on the walls a specific number of times to ward off obsessions. Relief from these obsessive thoughts is brief. Other people may pray or sing hymns for hours at a time in the belief that if they don’t, they or their loves ones will become possessed by a demon or go to hell. Rituals may take hours per day to complete. A person may stop going to work or school because their rituals take up almost all of their waking hours.

Obsessive Thoughts

People suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder are often at the mercy of their obsessions. These intrusive thoughts seemingly scream inside of a person’s head and do not become quiet until after a ritual is performed. These thoughts include:

  • Absolute certainly that a loved one will die if they do not do a ritual

  • Terror at the thought of anyone being harmed

  • Sudden sexual thoughts

  • Sudden extremely violent thoughts

  • Fear that the person does not have enough in order to survive or avert a catastrophe.


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