The symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are known as obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are an unwanted thought, image or urge that repeatedly comes into the mind. Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or rituals that are difficult or impossible to resist doing, and which happen as a result of the obsessions and are an attempt to reduce anxiety. There are a variety of different symptoms involved in OCD, but often they follow certain common themes.
Common obsessions include:
- fear of contamination due to germs or illness, which may lead to avoiding hand contact or toilets, and an excessive need to wash and clean
- fear of hurting others - for example, your own children - or injuring someone in a car accident
- preoccupation with having things in order, or with following certain patterns
- sexual or pornographic thoughts or images
- worrying you have forgotten to lock doors or turn off appliances
- preoccupation with religious or moral issues
Common compulsions include:
- cleaning: excessive hand washing, showering or house cleaning due to fear of germs, which may result in dermatitis of the hands
- checking: a compulsive need to continually check things, such as taps, locks or light switches due to a fear of damage or harm or to maintain order and symmetry
- counting items or objects such as paving stones on a walk
- hair pulling and hair loss
- skin picking
- hoarding random objects, such as junk mail and old newspapers
- praying excessively
- constant demands for reassurance from others
If you or someone you know displays any of the above OCD symptoms to the extent that it affects quality of life, visit a doctor for an assessment. Some behaviours not listed here may still be OCD symptoms. It is the obsessive nature of the behaviour that’s important in diagnosing OCD, rather than the behaviour itself.
Other conditions can be closely related to OCD, such as:
- body dysmorphic disorder - excessive concern over a body part, and believing it is abnormal in some way
- trichotillomania - compulsive hair pulling
- hypochondriasis - fear and preoccupation with developing a physical illness
- compulsive hoarding
- anorexia nervosa
Where to get help
If you are experiencing symptoms of OCD, talk to your doctor. Or you can contact one of the services below to speak with someone urgently or to chat online:
- Kids Helpline (telephone and online counselling for ages 5-25) - call 1800 55 1800.
- Mensline Australia (online counselling and forum for men) - call 1300 78 99 78.
- Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14.
- Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) - call 1300 659 467.
Last reviewed: December 2018