Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an important part of the effort to get help for yourself or your loved one. At Rio Vista Behavioral Health in El Paso, Texas, we’re proud to be a source of information and comprehensive care for adolescents and adults who have been struggling with OCD.
Learn about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is often referred to as OCD, is an illness that is characterized by two general types of symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. Some people who develop OCD will experience only one type of these symptoms, while others will experience both types.
It is important to understand that both obsessions and compulsions can cause considerable distress. Also, both types of symptoms can undermine a person’s ability to fully engage in a healthy and satisfying lifestyle.
The category of obsessions includes a variety of unwanted and distressing thoughts, urges, or mental images. Fear of contamination, worries of harming yourself or another, and recurring unpleasant sexual thoughts are examples of obsessions.
The category of compulsions includes behaviors that a person feels forced to engage in in order to avoid or reduce their mental distress. Checking and rechecking that a door is locked before you can leave the room, mentally repeating a series of words or numbers over and over again, and showering far more frequently than necessary are examples of compulsions.
Both adolescents and adults can develop OCD. Many people who have this disorder first experience the signs and symptoms of OCD during childhood or adolescence. However, it is possible for the symptoms of this disorder to first occur at virtually any age.
The good news about OCD is that it responds to effective professional care. When an adolescent or adult who has been struggling with OCD gets the right help, they can learn to manage their symptoms and experience significant improvements in quality of life.
Statistics about OCD
The following statistics about OCD in the United States were reported by the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA):
- About 1.8% of adult women and 0.5% of adult men experienced the signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder in the past year.
- About 50% of adults who have obsessive-compulsive disorder will experience symptoms that qualify as serious as measured on the Sheehan Disability Scale.
- The average age of onset of OCD symptoms is 19.
- The lifetime prevalence of OCD among adults age 18 and older is 2.3%.
- About 33% of adults who have OCD first experienced symptoms of this disorder during childhood.
Causes and risk factors for OCD
As is the case with most other mental health disorders, your likelihood for developing OCD can be influenced by a variety of internal and external factors. The following have been associated with an increased risk of OCD:
- Age (OCD symptoms most commonly begin to occur during childhood or adolescence)
- Gender (OCD is slightly more common among females than among males)
- Having a parent or sibling who struggles with OCD
- Family history of other mental health disorders
- Personal history of other mental health disorders
- Personal history of abuse or other trauma during childhood
- Heritable characteristics such as negative emotionality and behavioral inhibition
- Dysfunctional alterations in brain structure
Symptoms of OCD
Adolescents and adults who develop OCD may experience this disorder in a variety of ways. The signs and symptoms of OCD can vary significantly from person to person depending upon a host of individual factors. For example, some people will only have obsessions, others will only have compulsions, and still others will have both obsessions and compulsions.
In general, the following are some of the most common signs and symptoms of OCD:
- Having a powerful need for order and symmetry, and experiencing excessive distress in the presence of items that are disordered or arranged in a non-symmetrical manner
- Persistently worrying that you have failed to unplug an electrical device, lock a door or window, or otherwise complete a basic household safety task
- Developing a powerful fear of being contaminated after coming into contact with dirt or germs
- Suffering intense fear that you will embarrass yourself or someone you’re with by inadvertently uttering an obscenity or otherwise speaking inappropriately
- Spending excessive amounts of time organizing and cleaning your home, office, or other personal environment, far beyond what is necessary to achieve a neat and orderly appearance
- Being unwilling to shake hands, hug, or otherwise touch other people because you are afraid of possible contamination
- Being unable to leave a house, building, or room until you have checked multiple times to confirm that you’ve completed a basic task (such as turning the lights off, closing a window, or locking the door)
- Excessive attention to personal hygiene, such as taking multiple showers every day or washing your hands repeatedly, when there is no legitimate need for such behaviors
- Repeatedly counting, reciting certain numbers, or saying certain words or phrases, either out loud or silently
Effects of OCD
As with the signs and symptoms of OCD, the effects of OCD can vary considerably from person to person. The effects of OCD can be influenced by a host of individual factors, such as the type of symptoms you are experiencing and whether you’re also dealing with a co-occurring mental health disorder.
The following are among the many potential effects of OCD:
- Family discord
- Strained or ruined relationships with friends, peers, and colleagues
- Problems in school or at work
- Academic failure
- Job loss and unemployment
- Financial difficulties
- Onset or worsening of co-occurring mental health disorders
- Substance abuse and addiction
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
It is important to understand that the effects of OCD listed above are not unavoidable. When you get the right type and level of care, you can significantly reduce your risk for experiencing continued negative effects of OCD, and you can begin to heal from past damage.
Common co-occurring disorders among people who have OCD
If you develop OCD, you may also have an elevated risk for various additional mental health disorders. In clinical terms, the simultaneous presence of multiple disorders is referred to as “co-occurring disorders.”
The following are examples of co-occurring disorders that most commonly impact adults and adolescents who have been struggling with OCD:
- Anxiety disorders
- Schizoaffective disorder
- Body dysmorphic disorder
- Eating disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
Experts have not established a definitive cause-effect relationship between OCD and the co-occurring disorders listed above. Some adults and adolescents first experience the signs and symptoms of OCD, then develop a co-occurring disorder. In other cases, the signs and symptoms of the co-occurring disorders listed above precede the onset of OCD. And in still other cases, adolescents and adults develop OCD without ever experiencing a co-occurring disorder.
The potential presence of multiple disorders among people who have OCD is one of the many reasons why it’s important to seek professional care from a provider who can identify and, if necessary, treat co-occurring disorders.