Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Signs, Symptoms and Effects

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder is an important step toward getting help for yourself or your loved one. Haverhill Pavilion Behavioral Health Hospital in Haverhill, Massachusetts, is a source of accurate information, reliable guidance, and comprehensive solutions for adults and older adults who have been struggling with OCD.

Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Learn about obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is an illness that involves two types of symptoms. As the full name of this disorder indicates, the symptoms of OCD are divided into obsessions and compulsions. Some people who have OCD experience both types of symptoms, while others only have one type.

OCD symptoms that fall into the obsession category include recurring unwanted thoughts or urges that cause a person to experience significant distress. For example, a person who struggles with obsessions may develop an overwhelming fear of being contaminated or may worry excessively that they will harm themselves or someone else. Other examples of obsessions include intrusive thoughts about forbidden or taboo topics, such as inappropriate sexual behaviors.

It’s important to emphasize that, to be considered obsessions for the purposes of an OCD diagnosis, such thoughts must be unwanted and must be a source of anxiety or distress.

OCD symptoms that fall into the category of compulsions include mental or physical acts that a person feels they must perform in order to avoid or reduce distress. Examples of actions that may qualify as compulsions include checking and rechecking that doors have been locked or lights have been turned off, or repeating a series of words or letters again and again. Washing your hands or showering well beyond the frequency that is necessary for basic hygiene may also qualify as compulsions.

In terms of an OCD diagnosis, these behaviors must be performed in an attempt to ease or eliminate anxiety or distress, even though the actions themselves are not directly related to any legitimate causes of stress.

The symptoms of OCD will cause tremendous psychological strain, may occupy significant amounts of time, and can undermine a person’s ability to live a productive and satisfying life. If you or someone you care about has been struggling with the signs and symptoms of OCD, please know that help is available. With proper professional care, individuals whose lives have been impacted by OCD can learn to manage their symptoms and regain control of their thoughts and actions.

Signs & Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of OCD

Adults and older adults who have OCD may experience a variety of signs and symptoms. The nature and severity of these symptoms can vary depending upon a host of personal factors. The following are among the more common signs and symptoms of OCD:


  • Overwhelming need for symmetry and order, which causes significant distress when things are not arranged properly
  • Intense fear that you will be contaminated via exposure to germs or dirt
  • Recurrent unwanted and unpleasant sexual thoughts
  • Excessive worry that you have neglected a basic household safety responsibility, such as locking a door, turning off the stove, or unplugging an electrical device
  • Recurrent intrusive thoughts of harming yourself or someone else
  • Extreme fear that you will cause embarrassment to yourself or another person by accidentally blurting out an obscenity or otherwise speaking inappropriately


  • Feeling compelled to check that you’ve completed a household task multiple times before you can leave your house or even exit a room
  • Excessive cleaning and organizing of your home, office, or other environment, well beyond the level that is necessary for a neat and orderly appearance
  • Taking multiple showers every day when there is no legitimate hygienic reason to do so
  • Washing your hands repetitively when there is no legitimate hygienic reason to do so, even to the point that your skin begins to chafe or otherwise become damaged
  • Being reluctant or unwilling to shake hands or touch other people due to fears of becoming contaminated
  • Counting, reciting, or repeating certain numbers or groups of numbers again and again, either verbally or mentally
  • Repeating or reciting certain words or phrases again and again, either verbally or mentally

Short-Term Effects

Possible short-term effects of OCD

The possible impact of obsessive-compulsive disorder includes a wide range of short- and long-term effects. When a person first begins to struggle with the signs and symptoms of this disorder, they may have an elevated risk for the following short-term effects of OCD:

  • Strained interpersonal relationships
  • Discord within your family
  • Performance problems in school or at work
  • Diminished self-confidence
  • Onset of co-occurring disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Thoughts of suicide

Please do not underestimate the potential damage that can result from the short-term effects of OCD. Describing these possible outcomes as short-term does not imply that they are temporary or harmless. The short-term effects of OCD are listed here because they are the outcomes that most commonly occur earlier in a person’s struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Anyone who is dealing with any short-term effects of OCD is at risk for considerable distress and should seek effective professional care.

Long-Term Effects

Potential long-term effects of OCD

The longer you live with untreated OCD, the greater your risk becomes for experiencing long-term effects. As with the signs, symptoms, and short-term effects of this disorder, the long-term effects of OCD can vary significantly from person to person in terms of onset, type, and severity. What all long-term effects of OCD have in common, though, is their ability to cause lasting harm.

Potential long-term effects of OCD include the following:

  • Destroyed relationships
  • Failure in school
  • Job loss and chronic unemployment
  • Financial difficulties
  • Increasingly severe symptoms of co-occurring disorders
  • Chemical dependency
  • Social isolation
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal thoughts and actions

Anyone who has been experiencing any long-term effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder needs professional care. When you get the right type and level of help, you can minimize your risk for experiencing continued harm from the long-term effects of OCD.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among people who have OCD

Many people who develop OCD are also dealing with other disorders at the same time. Clinicians use the term “co-occurring disorders” to describe the simultaneous presence of multiple disorders.

Adults and older adults who have been struggling with the signs, symptoms, and effects of obsessive-compulsive disorder may be at increased risk for the following co-occurring disorders:

  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Body dysmorphic disorder
  • Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
  • Schizoaffective disorder
  • Schizophrenia

There is no definitive cause-effect relationship between OCD and the co-occurring disorders listed above. Some people develop the signs and symptoms of OCD first, then begin to experience the effects of co-occurring disorders. Others struggle with one of the co-occurring disorders listed above first, then begin to experience OCD. And still others have OCD without ever developing any co-occurring disorders.

Many people who have co-occurring disorders don’t realize they’ve been struggling with multiple conditions until they seek care for OCD. The possible presence of co-occurring disorders is one of the many reasons why it’s important to seek care from a provider who can identify and address all the obstacles that have been preventing you from living a healthier life.