4 Major Types of OCD: A Comprehensive Guide (2021)

April 28, 2021


OCD, short for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, is a mental health disorder that’s been well-researched and documented in the current medical era. You are probably aware of many people, even celebrities such as David Beckham and Daniel Radcliff, affected by OCD. Most of these individuals often perform compulsive rituals routinely, affecting their lives in many different ways.

Most people know OCD as obsessions or compulsions. However, were you aware that various other types of OCD have specific reasons for existence? If you want to learn more about OCD, then this post is meant to provide you with detailed information about four major types of OCD, their characteristics, and how they might affect one’s life.

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1. What Is OCD, and What Causes OCD?


What Is OCD?

OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by unwanted repetitive obsessions and a strong uncontrollable desire to perform repetitive actions. The terms obsessions and compulsions are the most basic terms used when defining OCD since the two conditions are almost always prevalent for most people affected by it.

OCD is not always about procrastination or developing negative thought patterns. The disorder’s obsessions and compulsions vary greatly; however, they fall within a specific category. Strict beliefs between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ thoughts or activities meant to ‘rectify’ or ‘result’ in a primarily positive outcome.

For instance, people who have a strong dislike for dirt have an obsessive-compulsive disorder to wash their hands a specific number of times, i.e., ten times, after touching something dirty. Washing their hands less than the number of times they feel is okay can affect them psychologically.

Most people often confuse habit repetitions with compulsion. However, to know if you have OCD, your repetitive thoughts and actions must satisfy these parameters:

  • Your thoughts and compulsions, if not acted upon, persist for at least one hour a day.
  • When you are unable to control your repetitive rituals and beliefs.
  • If you are constantly frustrated by your compulsions and thoughts.
  • If these habits start interfering with your life.

If you are affected by OCD, then you may be aware that your compulsive behaviors are unusual. Despite that, you may have a hard time quitting the compulsive behavior. However, as you probably know, obsessions aren’t just limited to actions. You may also be experiencing obsessive thoughts such as:

  • Fear of you or your close friends getting hurt.
  • Being extremely aware of your physiological processes like your breathing pattern, vibrations, pain sensations, and pulse.
  • Low self-confidence.

Examples of obsessive-compulsive habits include:

  • A compulsive desire to arrange objects symmetrically.
  • Obsessing with ‘lucky’ and ‘unlucky’ objects or items.
  • Cleaning rituals.


Causes OCD


What Causes OCD?

While health experts don’t understand the exact cause of OCD, several theories seem plausible. Some of these theories include:


Doctors speculate that there could be a connection between alterations in brain chemicals and OCD. Some of the chemicals that are thought to trigger OCD include norepinephrine and serotonin. When these chemicals are produced irregularly, there are some noticeable changes in the affected person’s mood and behavior regulation.


Stressful events, abuse, and violence are some of the environmental factors that have been known to play a significant role in developing OCD and several other mental health disorders.

For instance, if someone experiences lots of stress for an extended period, their brain may be hardwired to produce stress hormones to help them survive. If they adopt a particular ritual as a coping mechanism, the chances are that they’ll fall back to said ritual whenever they feel stressed.

Other Environmental Factors

PANDAS, short for a Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder, is another potential environmental factor that could cause OCD. This disorder has a strong connection with streptococcal infections, an infection that has been known to cause and exaggerate OCD symptoms in young children.

A Positive OCD Family History

Though no satisfactory research has been done on whether OCD is hereditary, there’s still a high probability that people whose family members have OCD are more likely to develop the condition themselves.

Although they are not entirely sure, experts believe that some genes do play a critical role in whether one can develop OCD or not. However, they haven’t discovered the exact gene that carries this trait. While most cases show that OCD may be hereditary, in some other cases, people develop this condition but don’t have a positive OCD family history.

However, this cause has not been satisfactorily researched, and researchers don’t yet have conclusive reports.

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OCD Treatment


2. Most Common OCD Symptoms and Signs

While discussing the signs and symptoms observed in people with OCD, it’s good to note that having obsessive thoughts doesn’t necessarily mean that you have OCD.

If you have OCD, your obsessions and thoughts can occupy a considerable part of your time and consume much of your energy. You may begin experiencing a decline in the quality and quantity of relationships you have. People affected by OCD experience various symptoms, and while for some, your physician can separate them into either obsessions or compulsions, for others, it can be a mixture of both.

With OCD, there are no fixed physiological symptoms, as is common with most other mental health disorders. However, there are set patterns of actions and thoughts that one could use to diagnose OCD.

Signs and symptoms of OCD include:

Cleaning Rituals

Symptoms include:

  • Excessive worry about germs and contamination.
  • Feeling extremely unclean all the time.
  • Avoiding places you feel are unclean, i.e., the outdoors.
  • Germaphobia and fear of contracting toxins, viruses, and other infections.
  • A compulsion to clean yourself, your belongings, and your surroundings all the time.


Arranging Things Symmetrically

Symptoms include:

  • You may experience the need to arrange your clothes and belongings in a symmetrical order.
  • You may feel an extreme imposition of balance in everything.
  • Applying symmetry in your actions, such as scratching your left hand if you scratched your right hand.
  • An intense urge to perform everything perfectly.
  • Feeling distressed or anxious when things aren’t arranged properly.
  • You may also feel an extreme need to keep and follow an exact number of records or rituals.


Common Signs of OCD


Obsessive-Compulsive Thoughts

Symptoms include:

  • You may experience violent thoughts.
  • You may also experience thoughts that cause you to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or distressed.
  • You may keep thinking about your sexual orientation and sexual desires.
  • You may have low self-esteem and think only negative thoughts.
  • You may generally feel negative about yourself.
  • You may also feel responsible for all bad things that have happened or are about to happen.
  • You may hide your feelings and keep secret thoughts that are filled with violence.
  • You may find yourself thinking about harming yourself or others.
  • You may also find yourself constantly seeking reassurances about your character or personality.
  • You may have planned rituals, both mental and physical, to help you get rid of any negative thoughts.
  • You may constantly analyze yourself at the end of each day to figure out whether you acted as you intended.
  • You may also find yourself resisting religious thoughts.

Negative Build-Up

Symptoms include:

  • You may find yourself persistently worrying about destructive or harmful events.
  • You could also be keeping several weapons for protection.
  • You may experience an extreme fear of losing essential documents.
  • You could also be buying several items in bulk even though you probably don’t need them.
  • You may find it hard to throw away things that you don’t need anymore.
  • You have a hard time when you lose your belongings; you may end up feeling incomplete.

However, it’s good to note that hoarding, in this case, doesn’t refer to hoarding disorder. Hoarding-related OCD is often accompanied by heightened stress.

OCD symptoms are different in both adults and children. As stated earlier, there are various symptoms of compulsions and obsessions.

Symptoms for obsession in children include:

  • Being worried about germs.
  • Being afraid of dying.
  • Extreme fear about what may happen in the future.
  • Violent images or thoughts that often cause night terrors.
  • Early signs of sexual curiosity.

Symptoms for compulsions in children include:

  • Checking on their possessions repeatedly.
  • Excessive personal hygiene and handwashing.
  • Performing repetitive actions.
  • Arranging things in particular symmetries.
  • Making frequent apologies.
  • Belief in lucky colors or numbers.

OCD symptoms can appear at any age; however, the most common age is between 8 and 12 years and between late teenage and early adulthood.

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3. Four Major Types of OCD

An important thing to note about OCD is that each set of signs and symptoms often reflects a particular type of OCD. This means that each type of OCD has an almost unique mix of signs and symptoms. These symptoms help differentiate one type of OCD from the other.

Let’s look at some of these major types of OCD:

1. Contamination

Contamination OCD is considered to be one of the most common types of OCD. This type of OCD is commonly associated with an excessive urge to keep oneself, clothes, and the environment clean. People affected by this disorder often have a massive phobia of germs and toxins to the point that they take preventative measures exceeding the normal range.

Some common behaviors include:

  • Excessive hand washing and sterilization.
  • Excessive disinfection of surfaces.
  • Throwing away items you believe are contaminated.
  • Changing clothes multiple times in a day.
  • Creating personal safe zones.

Most of the time, when you apply these rituals, you may notice that they only provide temporary relief because they don’t solve the root problem.

2. Perfection

Two words that describe this type of OCD are perfectionism and exactness. If you’re affected by this type of OCD, you may tend to be a perfectionist. You may go to overwhelming lengths to ensure that you do everything you can to ensure everything is perfectly in order.

You may spend most of your time counting, recounting, checking, and rechecking to help you achieve calmness. You may be superstitious, associating yourself with specific colors, numbers, and myths that determine ‘good’ and ‘bad luck.

You may also associate yourself with magic or fantastic beliefs, believing that something bad may happen if you don’t follow the rituals, causing you to suffer severe consequences. Some standard behavior that you can observe with people affected by this condition include:

  • An obsessive compulsion to arrange things in a particular order.
  • An uncontrollable urge to attain symmetry in everything.
  • Completing symmetry in action.
  • Believing in a specific set of numbers or colors.
  • You may have rituals involving numbers.
  • You may also have fantastical thoughts and procrastinate if you believe something terrible is going to happen.
  • You may have rituals involving arrangements and organization.
  • You may also hoard items you deem important.

This behavior almost always remains constant 24/7. Achieving perfection can be mentally and physically tiring and even unsatisfying. If you are affected by this type of OCD, you may end up cutting your social ties, limiting daily activities to maintain symmetrical order, and satisfy your rituals.


Types of OCD


3. Doubt and Rechecking

If you are affected by this type of disorder, you may end up checking and rechecking your actions to gain surety. You may be affected by intrusive thoughts and urges, which include imaginations and images that force you to experience fear and panic to the extent of harming yourself if you feel that you were careless or negligent.

One example is that you may forget to unplug your television and end up thinking that it would cause a short circuit that may lead to a fire that eventually burns your home down. Being afraid that you’d end up being solely responsible if this happens may cause you to check and recheck to see if your television is unplugged.

Behaviors observed in people within this category include:

  • Checking and rechecking car locks, window and door locks, light switches, appliances, etc.
  • If you have beliefs in numbers, you may end up checking a specific number of times to be satisfied.
  • You may also end up reviewing daily actions and try to recall the steps taken to ensure that you didn’t miss anything.

4. Taboo Thinking

This type of OCD involves a negative, often violating thought pattern. Your thoughts may involve religious extremism, terror, or sexual violence. Experts do not yet understand this type of OCD since it’s thought-based.

They have not yet developed a means and measurement scale to measure the intensity and intent of such thoughts.

If you are suffering from this type of OCD, you may develop certain rituals that help you eliminate your intrusive thoughts. Like other types of OCD, the practices are also caused by mental compulsions and reassurances through things and activities.

Rituals commonly observed in individuals affected by this condition include:

  • Intrusive thoughts, which are based on a sexual, religious, or violent nature.
  • One may also think about harming themselves or others.
  • You may experience religious extremism.
  • You may develop mental rituals and practices to help you get rid of intrusive thoughts.
  • You may find yourself reviewing your behavior often.
  • You may find yourself avoiding places or individuals that can trigger violent reactions or behavior.

It’s good to note that individuals affected by this type of OCD don’t necessarily have to have a violent history of any kind.

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4. Lesser-Known Types of OCD

There are other lesser-known types of OCD, also known as subtypes. They are not so common because they affect specific areas of an individual’s life, such as relationships, curiosity, etc. As such, their symptoms are often limited to these particular areas.

What are some of the OCD subtypes?

  • Relationship OCD

Relationship OCD, or ROCD, is a less common OCD subtype where the affected individual has intrusive thoughts concerning their partner. If you are affected by this type of OCD, you may experience fears of whether your partner or spouse is the right choice for you.

You may also experience some confusion between imagination and reality, your relationship’s future, and doubt whether staying together is worth it. You may be thinking of other options, splitting, or giving up on the relationship altogether. This is often caused by low self-esteem and self-doubt.

  • Somatic OCD

This type of OCD refers to overthinking and being hyper-aware about your body sensations such as your pulse, pain sensations, heartbeat, breathing patterns, and palpitations. You may also have affixation on your blinking patterns and even swallowing food.

  • Existential OCD

This subtype of OCD is often philosophical or spiritual in nature. If you are affected by this condition, you may constantly think about the nature of life, your existence, and other things that are beyond your intellectual bounds. You may find yourself thinking that the universe is not authentic and that your world is a dream or an illusion.

  • Curiosity OCD

It’s normal for most people to want to be informed. However, people affected by this subtype of OCD tend to have a strong uncontrollable urge to stay informed at all costs. If you are affected by this condition, it may be hard for you to walk away from a half-finished conversation.

  • Fear of Talking OCD

People affected by this type of OCD often have difficulty talking about topics they feel may cause them trouble. If you are affected by fear of this OCD, you may have difficulty attending social gatherings or even social events.

  • Pedophilia OCD

With this type of OCD, the affected individuals often have intrusive sexual thoughts and desires directed towards children.

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5. Effects of OCD on Your Life

In this era, OCD is thought to be a mental health disorder also affecting celebrities. A vast majority of people believe that OCD has positive traits such as discipline and cleanliness. However, people affected by OCD know how debilitating its symptoms can be.

OCD statistics show that out of the total number of people affected by the condition, 50% of them have very severe OCD, while only 25% have mild OCD.

Is OCD Considered a Disability?

Yes! According to the WHO (world health organization), OCD is in the top 10 mental health conditions which are considered a disability.

It can impact various aspects of one’s life, such as:

  • Your education and academics.
  • Your job and workplace relationships.
  • Your career development and progress.
  • Personal relationships like marriage, friends, and family.
  • Planning your family and starting the relationships.
  • Your social life and interactions.
  • Children custody.
  • Your overall quality of life.

The effects of OCD aren’t only limited to how it affects your life. They can also affect you both physically and mentally and lead to other addictive behavior like:

  • Violence
  • Polypharmacy
  • Substance abuse
  • Miscarriages
  • Abortion
  • Addiction

These effects vary between individuals. Some individuals may experience OCD but still manage to go on with their daily routines; however, others may have difficulty coping with the symptoms and effects. This can be pretty distressing and draining.

Some individuals may resort to performing their rituals in secrecy and avoid social interactions of any kind. Most people affected by OCD can successfully hide their mental conditions from family and friends for long periods. However, whichever side of the coin you are on, the end result is that OCD can be destructive, leading to problems like tassels, divorce, loss of work, poor personal relations, and even overall disability.


Treatment Options for OCD


6. How Do You Get an OCD Diagnosis?

Diagnosing OCD is a challenge in itself, and it cannot be effectively achieved by the self-screening tests seen online. If you want to get diagnosed, you’ll need to get an in-depth evaluation from a certified mental health professional. Your physician will evaluate you based on individual factors only relevant to you.

They’ll discuss your signs and symptoms, their duration, and individual experiences. Your evaluation will be dependent on how your symptoms affect your daily life. However, the symptoms have to affect you for at least an hour daily for the condition to warrant treatment.

Your behavioral symptoms are also a considerable part of your OCD examination. Your physician will evaluate your views on various aspects of life, your symptoms, and the beliefs you project towards the signs and symptoms.

The general steps of OCD examination include:

Step 1: Psychological Examination

This step involves a general conversation with your therapist involving a detailed discussion about your signs and symptoms, behavioral patterns, feelings, and the actions you adopt to manage your obsessive-compulsive disorder.

You could expect to be asked to explain various aspects of your mental health conditions that interfere with your daily life and to what extent they do in your personal and professional life. You may have to talk about your relationships, affairs, breakups, etc. However, for this process to work, you have to give your consent as a patient.

Step 2: The Diagnostic Criteria of OCD

Your doctor will use the authentic clinical diagnostic criteria (DSM-5) that the American Psychiatric Association devised.

It follows these steps:

  • Symptoms should involve compulsions, obsessions, or both.

Obsessions should define:

  • Recurrent thoughts, which are intrusive and recur many times daily and cause anxiety, disturbances, and stress.
  • If you try to avoid and suppress urges and compulsive thoughts. For instance, if you engage in activities aimed to prevent intrusive thoughts.

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OCD Treatment


Compulsions should define:

  • Having repetitive behaviors that are applied rigidly, such as washing one’s hands and rechecking one’s actions repeatedly.
  • Having thoughts and performing actions that have no scientific or logical basis aimed to reduce anxiety and stress.

Note: It’s not easy for young children to express their thoughts as adults can.

Other essential points that the physician will consider are:

  • The compulsive behavioral symptoms need to take at least one hour a day.
  • Whether there is any other diagnosed mental condition or substance abuse.
  • The disturbing behavior observed should not ultimately reflect other mental health disorders. Your physician should specify the behavior as:
    • Good Insight: You can recognize your condition and understand the difference between reality and imagination.
    • Poor Insight: You have a somewhat strong belief that your imaginations are true.
    • Delusional Beliefs: Where you believe wholly that false imaginations are true.

Specify if:

  • Tics: You have a current or past tic disorder.

Step 3: Physical Examination

Your physician may perform a general physical screening to ensure no other underlying physical conditions may be connected to your OCD.

Diagnostic Challenges of OCD

Diagnosing OCD can be particularly hard since the condition’s symptoms are pretty similar to other anxiety disorders and primary obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. There may be a possibility that you have other mental disorders along with OCD.


Common Medications for OCD


7. Best OCD Treatments

Do you have OCD? Or do you think you have OCD? Well, the good news is that the condition is treatable. Physicians can treat OCD in two significant ways:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Medication

Whatever treatment may be deemed best for you depends on the severity of your symptoms and your initial assessment by your physician. If your OCD is mild, then a short psychotherapy course may be sufficient; however, if your OCD is severe, then you may have to undergo a lengthier psychotherapy course together with medication.

  • Psychotherapy

The best type of psychotherapy for treating OCD is CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). It works by dividing the root problems of your OCD into smaller bits and solving the mental and behavioral issues one by one.

  • Medication

This option is used along with psychotherapy when the former doesn’t work effectively. The most common medication prescribed is SSRI, short for Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor. The drugs work by increasing serotonin levels, the primary chemical responsible for regulating your mood in the body.

Note: Only use drugs regulated by the FDA in the correct dosages and under strict expert guidance. If you experience any side effects, you should report them to your physician immediately.

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Bottom Line

You may have any type of OCD, sometimes even more than one. It’s also possible that you may have other mental health disorders together with OCD. However, regardless of the severity, treatment procedures such as psychotherapy and medication have been proven to help manage OCD symptoms.

If you are struggling in life due to OCD and the symptoms have begun interfering with your professional and personal life, it would be best to get help from a certified mental health expert to evaluate your condition.

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