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OCD in Adults: 5 Things to Know

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When people think of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they often envision someone who is very clean or tidy. In fact, you might hear people casually say, “I’m so OCD,” in reference to their housekeeping or organizational habits.

But OCD is more than ordinary cleanliness or tidiness. It’s a mental health condition that can disrupt daily life and require treatment.

In the United States, about one in 40 adults and one in 100 children have OCD, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Here’s what you should know about this surprisingly common condition.

What Is OCD?

OCD is a common, long-lasting disorder marked by uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that a person feels the urge to repeat. It’s a serious mental illness that is characterized by high levels of anxiety and emotional distress.

Though often used as a joke on TV and in movies, OCD can be a debilitating disorder that interferes with a person’s daily life. For example, someone with OCD who is obsessed with organizing objects in an exact way may spend so much time arranging and rearranging that they have less time for work or friends.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

People with OCD may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). There is a possibility that one’s symptoms will change over time.

Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety. Obsessions can include:

  • Concern with germs or contamination
  • Unwanted taboo thoughts
  • Aggressive thoughts towards others or self
  • Organizing or making things symmetrical

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels the urge to complete in response to an obsessive thought. Compulsions may include:

  • Excessive cleaning or handwashing
  • Arranging things in a certain order
  • Repeatedly checking on things
  • Compulsive counting

To be clear, not all habits are compulsions or obsessions. However, people with OCD spend at least one hour a day focusing on these thoughts or behaviors. Even if they recognize that their thoughts or behaviors are excessive, they cannot control them, and do not get any pleasure from performing them.

Some individuals with OCD may have a tic disorder. Motor tics are sudden, repetitive movements. For example, eye blinking, shoulder shrugging, and head jerking are all motor tics. OCD vocal tics may include repetitive sniffing or throat clearing.

Risk Factors of OCD

Usually, people with OCD are diagnosed by the age of 19. Boys often have an earlier age of onset. While the causes of OCD are unknown, genetics, brain structure and functioning, and environment are all risk factors for the disorder.


Studies have shown that people with an immediate family member who has OCD are at a higher risk for developing the disorder. The risk is even higher if the family member developed OCD as a child or teenager.

Brain Structure and Functioning

Studies have shown that people with OCD have differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of the brain. Research about this risk factor is still ongoing.


People who have experienced some sort of trauma during their childhood have an increased risk of developing OCD.

Treatment for OCD

OCD is usually treated with medication, psychotherapy, or some combination of both. While most patients with OCD respond to treatment, some may continue to experience symptoms of the disorder.

Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), two types of commonly prescribed antidepressants, are used to treat OCD, according to the NIMH.

In terms of psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can be as effective as medication for individuals with OCD. CBT emphasizes the importance of thinking through thoughts, feelings, and actions.

It’s important to note that people with OCD may also have other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

Working with a mental health clinician can help you get a proper diagnosis and treatment, which can lead to fewer OCD symptoms and better quality of life.

How Pharmacogenetic Testing Can Help OCD Treatment

If your clinician recommends mental health medication, ask if pharmacogenetic testing (PGx) can help.

Genomind’s Pharmacogenetic (PGx) Test looks at 24 genes related to mental health treatment. It provides guidance across 10+ mental health conditions, including OCD, and 130+ medications to help your clinician determine:

  • Which medications will likely be the most effective
  • Which medications may have side effects
  • How you metabolize medications for personalized dosing guidance

The Genomind test requires a prescription. Wondering if it can help you? Learn how to get the test here.

Does Your Medication Work for You?

Get a lifetime of mental health treatment guidance. Genomind’s leading pharmacogenetic test was designed to help your clinician personalize your treatment plan based on your genetic profile.

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