Although OCD includes both the above aspects, it is possible for someone to have the symptoms of either obsession or compulsion.
1. Symptoms of obsessions
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), obsessions refer to persistent & recurrent impulses and thoughts which result in discomfort, disgust, stress and anxiety. Although the individual may be aware that such impulses or thoughts are unreasonable and exist only in their minds, yet they cannot be controlled by reason or logic.
Here are some common symptoms of obsessions:
- Fear of contamination
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of losing things
- Fear of aggression towards self or others
- Aggressive thoughts & violent images in mind
- Worried about something terrible happening
- Concern about exactness or perfectionism
- Unwanted perverse sexual impulses or thoughts or images
- Excessive concern with blasphemy, religion or morality
- Excessive focus on superstitious ideas or luck
- Putting things in perfect order or in symmetry
- Avoiding trigger situations like shaking hands
How obsessed are you? Read What Level Is Your OCD?
2. Symptoms of compulsions
Compulsions refer to repetitive and intrusive mental acts or behavior that an individual feels obsessed to perform or complete, as per the APA. Compulsions are usually an attempt at reducing or avoiding anguish or a dreaded situation. Although performing the compulsion may lead to temporary relief from worry and anxiety, the cycle of obsessions return and repeat.
Here are some common types and symptoms of compulsions:
- Excessive cleaning of objects, washing hands, bathing, grooming etc
- Repeatedly checking if things are done properly, like the door is locked
- Constantly checking if anything harmful has happened to self or others
- Repeating routine, daily activities or body movements
- Doing a task multiple times
- Compulsively counting to end a task on a lucky number
- Mental reviewing events continually
- Undoing or cancelling a task and redoing it
- Arranging things properly until it’s done perfectly
- Constantly seeking reassurance
- Engaging excessively in religious rituals or praying constantly
- Hoarding or gathering old objects considered junk
OCD symptoms may get worse or ease and may change over time. However, it is not necessary that you have OCD just because you have some symptoms of obsessions or compulsions. When you have OCD, you will spend a lot of time on your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Moreover, it will cause you excessive distress and adversely affect your education, career, relationships and personal life.
Causes of OCD
The causes of obsessive compulsive disorder are still unknown. However, there are certain risk factors. Here are some of the prominent OCD risk factors according to NIMH
This mental disorder might involve a genetic aspect, but scientists are yet to identify the specific genes. Studies have found that “OCD is familial, and results from twin studies demonstrate that the ‘familiality’ is due in part to genetic factors.”
Research has revealed that if you have a first-degree family member, like a parent, sibling, or child, with OCD, then you are more likely to be affected by the disorder. However, your level of risk will be higher if your family member developed the disorder during their childhood or teen years.
2. Neurological factors
Lesion, surgical and imaging studies indicate “that the prefrontal cortex (orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortexes), basal ganglia, and thalamus are involved in the pathogenesis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).” Imaging studies have also found that OCD patients have differences in the subcortical structures & frontal cortex of the brain.
Another 2013 study on ‘Brain Structural Alterations’ in OCD patients stated “Our study assessed the regional gray matter volume alterations of OCD patients with autogenous and reactive obsessions. In comparison to autogenous patients, reactive patients showed a larger gray matter volume in the right Rolandic operculum. Also, when compared to healthy controls, patients with reactive obsessions showed a larger caudal putamen.”
It is believed that there is a connection between anomalies in specific areas of the brain and OCD symptoms. However, the particular nature of the connection is yet to be known.