Home Health OCD | Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

OCD | Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

by Louise W. Rice

Every individual experiences obsession and recurring thoughts at some point in their life. For example, do you ever shut the door only to wonder if you locked it? Then you recheck it to find out that you closed it earlier.

Sometimes, these thoughts to double-check something can become recurring and eventually lead to obsessive and compulsive behavior. Frequent thoughts can also make you anxious and affect your daily life choices.

However, this is one such example to help you understand the basis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Obsessions can vary and result in repetitive acts.

Before we learn about the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of OCD, let us look into this chronic yet treatable disorder.

What Is OCD?

The World Health Organization recognizes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) among the most debilitating illnesses. The disorder affects about 1 in 40 individuals in America.

But the misconceptions about OCD make it much more challenging to recognize. Due to this, thousands of individuals live with undiagnosed OCD.

OCD’s subtype spectrum goes beyond quirky and whimsical behavior. People with OCD spend their lives with anxiety, guilt, and distress due to compulsive and obsessive behavior.

Sometimes, OCD can also vandalize an individual’s personal and professional life if left untreated. Moreover, there are various types of OCD. Here are some of the subtypes.

  • Contamination
  • Ruminations
  • Relationship OCD
  • Religious OCD
  • Symmetrical OCD

OCD is recognized by two significant symptoms— compulsions and obsessions. Obsessions can start with a few recurrent thoughts, urges, or ideas that gradually become intrusive thoughts and affect a person’s day-to-day life.

In contrast, compulsions are ritualistic behavior which is a person’s response to obsessiveness. For example, if a person develops an obsession with cleanliness, the compulsive behavior will stem from the urge to neutralize the recurring thought. As a result, a person with OCD experiences discomfort, anxiety, and constant distress.

Causes of OCD

There isn’t a definitive criterion of set factors that cause OCD. However, some known factors may result in recurring thoughts, which eventually develop into obsessive and compulsive behavior.

Here are some factors responsible for an individual’s obsessive and compulsive behavior.

  • Neurological factors: serotonin is a vital neurochemical playing a key role in managing our mood, sleep, nausea, digestion, sexual desire, etc. A chemical imbalance of serotonin can result in recurring thoughts.
  • Genetic factors: an individual can inherit OCD from a parent.
  • Behavioral factors: well-organized people often experience recurring thoughts and develop obsessions and compulsions. Such people like to be in charge of situations from a young age. As they grow older, their risk of developing OCD increases.
  • Life changes: major life changes can be a potential trigger of OCD. For example, the birth of a child may put an individual in a position of extreme responsibility. This can trigger OCD in the parent.
  • Personal experiences: life experiences, including trauma, can also trigger OCD. For example, contracting an allergic reaction from touching an insect poison may result in an obsessive need to wash hands.

How Is OCD Diagnosed?

OCD is quite challenging to diagnose as the symptoms are similar to various mental health disorders, including anxiety disorder, depression, schizophrenia, etc.

Moreover, many individuals have co-occurring disorders with OCD. Therefore, a person must regularly consult a mental healthcare provider for an appropriate diagnosis.

But if there is not a definitive blood test, universal questionnaire, or brain scan for the diagnosis of OCD, how is it diagnosed by medical healthcare professionals?

There is a complex diagnostic process involving various sessions of therapy. In these sessions, a mental health care provider conducts systematic interviews.

These interviews have detailed questions with OCD criteria. The questions are based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The therapist can identify the subject of obsession and compulsiveness through these questions.

In the case of an OCD subtype, the therapist can look into your case-specific obsession.

Besides this, they can recognize your compulsive behavior and determine what helps soothe the turmoil. The questions and therapy sessions also help your mental healthcare provider measure the severity of the obsession.

This way, a therapist can determine to what extent OCD affects an individual’s personal and professional life. However, the diagnosis criteria are challenging, so only a professional can look into the disorder properly.


Did you know that, on average, it takes about 17 years for an individual with OCD to receive the proper treatment? A shortage of professional OCD therapists, limited time, and expensive therapy are why getting the right treatment for OCD and its subtypes is extremely challenging.

Treatment for OCD is extremely effective as it helps recognize an individual’s recurring thoughts and compulsions.

Once the core factor is recognized, it is easier to manage the disorder. Most people who receive the correct diagnosis and treatment recover completely from OCD.

Treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, medications, and some other types of therapies are highly effective for treating mild to severe OCD. First, let us look into the various treatment methods available for OCD.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has a component called exposure and response prevention. This component of CBT is highly effective for treating OCD as it focuses on gradual exposure to a feared object.

For example, if a person has recurring thoughts about cleanliness, they will gradually be exposed to dirt. With time, the person resists their ritualistic urge and unlearns the compulsive behavior.

But ERP requires a lot of effort, time, and practice. However, it is a highly effective therapy for OCD as it helps individuals manage their obsessions and compulsions.


Some medications can help manage obsessions and compulsions. For example, some antidepressants approved by the FDA can also help treat OCD. These are the following medicines.

  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

These medications are suitable for certain age groups. Therefore, a person must consult a therapist before taking these prescription medications.

Other Treatments

Besides psychotherapy and medications, other treatment options are also available for managing OCD. In some treatment-resistant cases, the following can help.

  • Intensive outpatient and residential treatment programs.
  • Online OCD treatments via NOCD
  • Deep brain stimulation (DBS).
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).


OCD can often go undiagnosed and untreated in many individuals. However, it’s best to consult a psychotherapist if you notice that your obsessions and compulsion stem from recurring thoughts.

You can also talk to a loved one to help determine if your intrusive thoughts have become an obsession. OCD may be debilitating, but it is a manageable disorder. Therefore, if your intrusive thoughts affect your day-to-day life, it is best to book an appointment with a therapist to find professional help.

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