Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a phobic anxiety disorder. Its primary symptoms include obsessive thoughts and actions the person has no choice but to compulsively obey. Obsessive-compulsive disorder means that the symptoms constantly repeat themselves, causing significant anxiety or suffering. In addition, obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterised by excessive and unrealistic obsessive thoughts and actions.
The most common obsessions are fear of getting dirty, fear of infections, compulsive suspicion and need for symmetry. The person may be constantly afraid of getting dirty or of contracting an infectious disease. They may also be constantly afraid of causing a serious accident, such as a fire.
A person who feels an intense need for symmetry wants his/her objects to be in a certain order, or events to take place in a certain order, or else he/she becomes anxious. Obsessive thoughts may also manifest as a continuous concern over personal health, as a compulsive need for repeating certain words, or as distressing sexual images or thoughts, which enter the mind uninvited.
The most typical compulsive acts are checking and washing. For example, a person suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder may check that the coffee maker is switched off dozens of times. Other typical compulsive acts include washing hands repeatedly or otherwise washing oneself uncommonly often. Sometimes the washing involves long and complicated rituals, which must be performed in the correct order. An obsessive-compulsive person believes that something bad will happen if he/she does not perform his/her compulsive acts.
An obsessive-compulsive adult is usually aware of the problem
Many people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder know that the oven, for example, is not turned on and that they are perfectly free to go to work or school but regardless cannot stop checking the oven over and over again. Mild obsessions are quite common in children and adolescents, in particular, but frequent obsessive-compulsive symptoms are extremely time-consuming, making everyday life and personal relationships significantly complicated. Obsessive-compulsive individuals are more likely to have panic attacks, and the disorder can lead to or be linked to depression.
Obsessive-compulsive people wait unnecessarily long before seeking treatment
Obsessive-compulsive disorder often develops slowly. People suffering from the disorder may feel ashamed of their symptoms or they may not know that treatment is available. This may be the reason for obsessive-compulsive individuals not seeking treatment until 7 to 10 years after the onset of the first symptoms. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be successfully treated with medication, psychotherapy and with a combination of both.