Spotlight on the Symptoms of OCD in Adults

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What are Obsessions and Compulsions in Adult OCD

The symptoms of OCD in adults center on obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are described as persistent unwanted thoughts and impulses that fill a person’s mind. These are often associated with themes of violence, harm and endangerment. Because of their nature, the thoughts cause a large amount of worry, fear, anxiety and doubt.

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person performs to try and relieve the fear and anxiety caused by the obsessions. These may bring relief for a time but the effect does not last and the cycle begins again with obsessions filling a person’s mind.

The Symptoms of OCD in Adults

The signs and symptoms of OCD in adults can be divided into obsessions and the resulting compulsions.

Some of the signs of obsessions include:-

  • Obsessions often have themes to them such as fears of dirt, aggressive thoughts or impulses and inappropriate violent sexual thoughts.
  • A person may feel contaminated by touching certain surfaces or coming in contact with particular substances.
  • Impulses to act on violent thoughts or shout out obscenities.
  • Cracked chapped skin due to excessive hand washing or showering.
  • Hair loss from hair pulling.
  • Fears of having knocked someone down while driving.
  • Lesions left by skin picking.
  • Hoarding worthless junk.

The signs of compulsions include the following:

  • Like obsessions, an adult with OCD will often suffer from compulsions that follow a particular theme. These commonly include cleaning and washing, counting and ordering, checking, looking for reassurances and performing the same action over and over.
  • Cleaning actions may include constant hand washing or showering.
  • Counting actions commonly include counting items over and over.
  • Ordering involves setting objects such as cans of food or CDs into some kind of order. The person normally becomes very stressed if someone rearranges something they have set in order.
  • Checkers feel compelled to repeatedly check that they have locked a door, turned the stove off or similar actions. Although they know logically that they have, they still keep going back to check again.
  • Obsessions such as the fear of hitting a pedestrian while driving may result in compulsively seeking reassurance that they have not killed someone. This reassurance is often sought from the police.
  • A person may fear that they will throw away something they may need one day. This results in an accumulation of junk in their house that is often comprised of newspapers, magazines, margarine tubs, plastic bags and milk cartons.

Symptoms of OCD in Adults: Conclusion

OCD is a condition that often consumes more and more time until the person’s life is centered on their obsessions and compulsions. This leads to problems with employment and limits social interaction. The person often realizes their behavior is irrational, but is powerless to stop their urges. Recognizing the symptoms of OCD in adults is the first step towards finding help for this condition.


Coping with OCD, Bruce Hyman and Troy DuFrene, Raincoast Books, 2008