What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms causes and treatment

Diagnosis Of OCD

According to the APA and DSM-5, the diagnostic criteria for obsessive-compulsive disorder includes the following:

  • Presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both
  • It should be time-consuming, result in clinically significant distress or affect social, occupational or other crucial aspects of life
  • The symptoms should not be due to the physiological effects of a substance (alcohol/drug abuse) or medical condition
  • The symptoms and disturbances should be better explained by another mental disorder, like generalized anxiety disorder, excoriation, stereotypies etc

If a patient successfully meets the OCD criteria laid down by the DSM-5, then a doctor will perform blood tests and physical exams to determine if any other medical condition is causing these symptoms. A healthcare professional or a psychiatrist may also have an in-depth discussion with the affected person to understand their thoughts, habits, and emotions.

Related: How Sensitive Is Your OCD Radar? 

Treatment For Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 

Currently, there is no cure for OCD. However, there are some treatment options that can help a person to manage the symptoms and reduce it’s impact on their daily life.

Here are some of the most helpful treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder:

1. Psychotherapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is believed to be one of the most effective methods of treatment. Cognitive therapy can help to change a person’s thought patterns and teach them how to better respond to obsessive thoughts and prevent compulsive behavior in a healthy manner.

One 2012 study revealed that “The psychological treatment of choice for OCD, in both adults and children and backed by numerous clinical trials, is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), particularly exposure with response prevention (EX/RP).

Moreover, research has also discovered that CBT “is superior to medications alone” with “a lower relapse rate than in medications.” It has been found that over 75% of patients respond positively to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). 

2. Medication

According to NIMH, SRIs (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) can significantly help to reduce the symptoms of OCD. Although it may take around 2-4 months to see some results, these psychiatric drugs in higher doses can cause rapid improvement in OCD patients.

One 2014 study found that “A majority of cases of OCD will improve with appropriate pharmacotherapy.” The research paper stated “The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the mainstay of pharmacological treatment. These are typically used at higher doses and for longer periods than in depression. Proven second-line treatments include the tricyclic clomipramine and the addition of low-dose neuroleptic medications.”

Another 2010 study revealed that serotonergic antidepressants like SSRIs are the established first-line of pharmacologic treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorder. The paper noted “Medium to large dosages and acute treatment for at least 3 months are recommended until efficacy is assessed. In case of significant improvement, maintenance treatment is necessary.

A 1998 study also found that “SSRIs such as fluvoxamine have established efficacy in OCD and preliminary studies indicate that they are also effective in OCSDs.

However, if symptoms fail to improve with such medications, then antipsychotic medication can also prove to be helpful and effective for treating obsessive-compulsive disorder in patients.

According to a recent study, “Current evidence suggests that among patients augmented with antipsychotics, one in three SSRI-resistant OCD patients will show a response. Among antipsychotics, risperidone, and aripiprazole have the best evidence.” 

Related: Breaking Free Of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

3. Neuromodulation

NIMH claims that in the rare occurrence when medication and CBT fail to make improvements in OCD symptoms, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), approved by the FDA in 2018, can be “an adjunct in the treatment of OCD in adults.”

A doctor will use certain devices to stimulate nerve cells through magnetic fields to modify electrical activity in specific areas of the brain. However, studies have found that there is a “lack of evidence for the effect of TMS in the treatment of OCD.”

4. Group Therapy

Participating in cognitive-behavioral group therapy (CBGT) can also help someone suffering from this. By interacting with others who suffer from OCD, sharing their struggles, an individual can gain motivation and support through group therapy.

It can also help to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. A 2003 analysis of CBGT for the treatment of OCD revealed that it is “effective in reducing the intensity of OCD symptoms and of overvalued ideas and that it improves the OCD patient’s quality of life in a short period of time.

5. Relaxation techniques

Apart from the above-mentioned therapies and medications, various alternative therapies and relaxation techniques can also help in decreasing symptoms of OCD. Practices like mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and even massage can significantly help to alleviate obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms.

A study, conducted in 2012, discovered that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can help to improve the conditions of an OCD patient. The paper stated “Participants valued the treatment as helpful in dealing with their OCD and OCD-related problems. Two-thirds of the patients reported a decline in OCD symptoms. Benefits included an increased ability to let unpleasant emotions surface and to live more consciously in the present.

Another 2008 study revealed that mindfulness-based intervention can lead to a “strong decrease” of obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms. The research concluded that “meditation and mindfulness may be a possible alternative therapeutic option for treating OCD symptoms… A mindfulness approach may provoke less distress in OCD patients than an exposure and response prevention treatment.

Related: How Mindfulness Can Improve Your Overall Mental Health

Living With Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

It can certainly be challenging to live with OCD. Moreover, as most people with this mental disorder do not willingly seek treatment, it makes it even harder for them to overcome this. OCD patients often feel guilty about their obsessions and compulsions. Hence, they try to hide this condition from others, which makes it even more difficult for them to seek help or treatment.

If you suffer from OCD or know someone with OCD, then it is important that you seek or offer medical help immediately. Instead of criticizing or shaming someone with this disorder, we need to create an environment of support where they feel encouraged to seek help. Effective treatment can improve symptoms significantly and may even cure the disorder over time.


What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder & How To Overcome It
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What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
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Theo Harrison

Hey there! I am just someone trying to find my way through life. I am a reader, writer, traveler, fighter, philosopher, artist and all around nice guy. I am outdoor person but heavily into technology, science, psychology, spiritualism, Buddhism, martial arts and horror films. I believe in positive action more than positive thinking.View Author posts