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Understanding OCD: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Their Treatment

Understanding OCD: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Their Treatment

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder that is driven by undesirable thoughts known as obsessions that compels repetitive behaviours, known as compulsions. However, it varies from individual to individual in the way in which symptoms of OCD are experienced.

OCD forces your brain to get stuck on a particular task or a thought and develop an anxiety if the task is not repeated. This unwanted repetition isn’t something you find pleasure from, and even though you know that your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behavior are irrational, you are unable to resist it. 

What are Obsessions and Compulsions?

Obsessions are irrational thoughts or impulses that are repetitive in nature. Most of these thoughts are often disturbing and distract you, there may be a feeling of uneasiness or anxiety if these obsessions are not acted upon.


In most cases, they are mostly accompanied by feelings of fear, disgust, doubt, or a feeling that things have to be done in a way that is “just right.” Obsessions are time-consuming and affect your ability to function.

There’s a fine line between worrying about something and someone and being obsessed. Thinking about the safety of your loved one, or wondering about whether you’ve locked the doors aren’t necessarily the symptoms of OCD.

It is only when these thoughts block out everything else and affect your ability to process other thoughts that it is classified as an obsession. These OCD intrusive thoughts are quite unlike general thought processes and hijack the mind to trigger a response.  

Some of the most common obsessions in OCD are:

  • Fear of contamination (through germs, diseases, etc.)
  • Fear of losing control of an impulse
  • Belief on superstitions related to lucky color, numbers, etc.
  • The constant fear of losing things

Compulsions, on the contrary, are repetitive behaviors you undertake to drive out the obsessions. However, in most cases, these compulsive behaviors end up causing anxiety within you as you find them time-consuming and demanding.

Though these acts are designed to relieve the stress brought on by an obsession, it’s not always the case. Individuals who suffer from these disorders do know that these actions make no sense, but they are tempted to still act on it to relieve their anxiety.

Similar to obsessions, not all repetitive actions are termed as compulsions, the context of the behaviour is important. 

Some of the most common Compulsions include:

  • Washing hands multiple times 
  • Constantly arranging things in a given order
  • Repeating a body movement (example includes tapping your foot)
  • Checking parts of your physical condition or body

Primary Factors/Causes that Trigger OCD

  • Though there’s no conclusive evidence on what exactly triggers OCD in an individual, most of the research conducted worldwide points towards two factors that might be the leading cause. As per the research findings, OCD symptoms occur when there’s a disconnect between the front part of the brain (orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex) and the deeper parts of the brain (the thalamus, and striatum). The miscommunication affects these different parts of the brain and they fail to respond normally to various chemicals like serotonin (a chemical used by nerves to communicate with each other), dopamine, glutamate among others.
  • Some research findings also hold genetics as a responsible factor behind OCD. As per the studies, researchers believe that if OCD runs within your family, there are nearly 25 – 30% chances of you developing the condition.  Few experts also believe that the symptoms shown in early childhood differ from the ones that we see during adulthood. As per them, the genes play a major role when OCD starts in childhood (40 – 60%), compared to when it starts in adulthood (25 -45%).
  • In some cases, even an illness or ordinary life stress can trigger the symptoms of OCD.

Different Types of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders

Based on the nature of the symptoms experienced OCD can be divided into different types. There are five main categories of OCD and numerous sub-types within each category.

  • Contamination
  • Ruminations
  • Intrusive Thoughts
  • Checking
  • Hoarding


Here an individual’s fear of contracting something is the obsession and he needs to wash and clean is the compulsion. Examples, Resorting to washing and cleaning excessively when using public toilets, shaking hands with others, touching doorknobs/handles, visiting hospitals, etc. (Fear of contracting germs).

Cleaning or washing is often undertaken multiple times throughout the day. It often is accompanied by rituals of repetitive washing of hand or body until the individual ‘feels clean’.


Here an individual often experiences prolonged thinking about any question or theme which leads to being mostly unproductive and undirected. Ruminations are often indulged and not objectionable. rather than resisted. The themes experienced while ruminating are philosophical, religious, or metaphysical in nature. Like, life after death, origins of the universe, etc.

Rumination often ends up causing interferences with the individual’s daily living like work, relationships, etc.

Intrusive Thoughts

Here an individual experiences obsessional thoughts that are repetitive, and repugnant in nature. For example, thoughts of causing harm to others or loved ones. Intrusive thoughts often end up causing interferences with the individual’s daily living like work, relationships, etc.

intrusive thoughts ocd

The very idea of their ability to think such thoughts in the first place can be horrifying. However, these individuals are incapable of reality to act on the thoughts as they find them revolting and would go to great lengths to prevent them from happening.

Some categories of intrusive thoughts are;

  • Relationships– Here the individual obsessively doubts the sustainability and suitability of their relationship.
  • Sexual Thoughts – Here the individual obsessively thinks of sex, to the point of it crippling their social interactions.
  • Magical Thinking – Here the individual believes and is fearful that if they think of something bad, something bad would happen.
  • Religious Thinking – Here the individual often fixates on religion and religious matters.
  • Violent Thoughts – Here the individual obsessive fears of acting upon violent acts against loved ones or other people.

Intrusive thoughts often end up causing interferences with the individual’s daily living like work, relationships, etc.


Here an individual’s fear of harm, loss, or death is the obsession and need to check is known as a compulsion.

Checking of gas or electric stove knobs, (fear of causing burn down), water taps (fear of flooding), door locks (fear of robbery), etc.

Checking is often undertaken multiple times throughout the day and ends up being extremely time-consuming.

It ends up being extremely time consuming and interferes with daily living like work, relationships, etc.


Here an individual’s inability to dump or trash purposeless or worn out possessions, save or collect things even when they have no space to keep is known as hoarding.

There are 3 categories of hoarding;

  • Preventing harm hoarding – Here the individual wants to prevent harm and hence refuses to throw away. For example, if they throw away cans or glass objects, garbage collectors will be harmed due to those objects.
  • Deprivation Hoarding – Here the individual doesn’t throw the object away as they believe that they might need the object later use or purpose.  For example, they refuse to throw away old newspapers as they believe they haven’t finished reading or might need it later
  • Emotional Hoarding – Here the individual hoards things because they hold emotional or is highly significant value for them. For example, they would keep old toys and clothes from their childhood as those items hold fond memories.

How is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder treated?

Generally, a typical treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder includes a combination of psychotherapy (CBT or ERP), and medications or a combination of both for optimal results.


It primarily helps in relieving obsessions and compulsions. One of the most effective psychotherapy treatments includes – Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP – a type of CBT).

ERP therapy is designed in a way that helps the individual control and tolerate the anxiety associated with obsessive thoughts and simultaneously not allowing them to act on a compulsion to reduce that anxiety. With consistent practice, the anxiety reduces and the individual feels better.


To cut down the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, experts and medical practitioners often prescribe antidepressants alongside the therapy sessions.

One of the most common antidepressants often recommended by experts is called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) as it has been benefited many individuals by reducing their obsessions and compulsions.

However, based on the nature of your symptoms there are a variety of treatment options available and tailor-made specifically to the type of OCD you are suffering. From Neurofeedback treatment, psychotherapy and medications OCD symptoms can be managed and controlled. 

Call us at 96111 94949 to learn more about OCD treatment options.

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