Condition Menu

What are Common Symptoms of OCD?

Obsessive compulsive disorder includes both obsessions and compulsions that take up a great deal of time. Signs and symptoms vary by age and individual, but treatment is possible.

Woman at a coffee shop

OCD Obsession and Compulsion

Each subset of OCD can have its own symptoms, signs and triggers, but some of the most commonly occurring include:

Harm Obsession


  • Fear you will cause harm to others
  • Fear of acting upon a violent urge


  • Avoiding sharp objects
  • Compulsively checking to ensure you haven’t caused anyone harm
  • Asking others if you’ve hurt them



  • Fixating on the feeling that something is “off”
  • Ensuring symmetry in actions or their surroundings


  • Repeating an action, such a flipping a light switch, until they have the feeling of “just right”
  • Ordering, aligning and organizing that which is out of order

Checking Compulsions


  • Fear or doubt that lights were turned off, doors were closed, etc


  • Repeated “checking” to make sure things are as you thought
  • Seeking assurance from others

Contamination/ Cleanliness


  • Fear of germs, fluids, or touching certain items that may be contaminated
  • Fear of spreading contaminants


  • Repeated washing of hands
  • Extensive bathing routines
  • Avoiding public places and touching people

Sexual OCD


  • Fear around intrusive thoughts inconsistent with your sexual identity
  • Thoughts about forcing someone else do perform a sexual act


  • Avoiding interactions with people
  • Self-punishing thinking


Triggers will vary by subset and even person to person, but you can think of them as any thing or event that causes stress, anxiety, severe emotion or a feeling of a lack of control.

Obsession Symptoms

Obsessions are thoughts, images or impulses that occur over and over again and feel outside of a person’s control. Typically, people do not want these thoughts and even realize they don’t make sense. Obsessions often bring fear, doubt, and a consuming need to do things the “right way.” Common obsession symptoms include:

Fear of Contamination

When a person is overly concerned by illness or germs, they may be struggling with contamination OCD. Worry over touching items that may be contaminated, as well as a fear of spreading contamination, are prevalent with this fear. Concern over cleanliness may lead to avoiding social situations that could trigger anxiety.

Unwanted and Intrusive Thoughts

Thoughts take many forms. In the case of OCD, thoughts are distressing and usually follow a theme, such as doubt that tasks were done correctly, such as turning off the oven or locking doors. Other examples include:

  • Needing things to be orderly or symmetrical, and feeling intense stress when objects are not a certain way
  • Aggressive or horrific thoughts about losing control and harming themself or others
  • Unwanted thoughts about aggression, sexual or religious subjects

Compulsion Symptoms

To neutralize the intensity of ruminations, people with OCD use compulsive, repetitive behaviors or thoughts as a temporary solution. Important to note is that they would rather not have to do these time-consuming tasks but feel driven to engage in compulsive behavior. Typical compulsions include:

Excessive Hand-washing

Intrusive thoughts create uncertainty, thus causing the need to perform a stress-reducing action. For those afraid of contamination, this often means excessive washing and cleaning of both themselves and objects around them. The repetitive washing of body and hands goes well beyond cleanliness and can cause skin to become chapped, raw or bleed.

“Checking” of Locks, Stove, etc.

Individuals with OCD often worry that harm will come to themselves or others. To ease these feelings, as well as ease the fear that they have forgotten to complete a task in order to keep everyone safe, they may compulsively perform many actions, including:

  • Checking stove, doors repeatedly
  • Counting in patterns
  • Arranging items until it “feels right”
  • Mental review of events/praying to prevent harm
  • Repeating routine activities

OCD Signs in Children and Teens

The signs and symptoms of OCD in children and teens mimic those of adults, but often children and teens do not realize their obsessions and compulsions are out of the ordinary. Symptoms appear gradually over time, but there are signs to watch for:

Early-age Rituals

Rituals are important for child development, such as having an established eating or sleeping schedule. However, rituals can be problematic when children or adolescents become obsessed with doing them the “right way” and cannot complete tasks or move on until they’ve repeated the ritual to perceived perfection.


Like adults, children and adolescents with OCD often have the compulsive need to count. Homework may take hours as they rewrite the same number or word to get it “just right.” Similarly, they may be consumed by patterns and ordering objects a certain way.

Intense Need for Reassurance

As thoughts become distressing, children and adolescents may reach out to parents for reassurance — checking if doors are locked, windows closed, etc. — and keep asking until discomfort is relieved, and they feel confident nothing bad will happen. Though harmless once in a while, this need for reassurance is often not satiated and questions are repeated over and over.

Find Treatment for OCD Today

Treatment for OCD varies, but patients seeking help through Pathlight Mood & Anxiety Center (Pathlight) can pursue recovery and find relief from symptoms in our Residential and Partial Hospitalization Programs.

The OCD track focuses on supporting patients in managing triggers and experiencing success. It utilizes a specific form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy called Exposure & Response Prevention (ERP) — an evidence-based treatment for OCD and phobias. The specialty track includes OCD individual and group therapy, family therapy for ongoing support and education, and psychiatric assessments to modify treatment plans.

Pathlight provides comprehensive care and space for healing. Patients receive dedicated, expert care based on their unique needs, and they are never alone.

Learn More About OCD