Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Symptoms

The formal diagnosis of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is defined by these symptoms, which can be evaluated by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. Also see the separate page on the related ICD criteria for “Anankastic Personality Disorder (Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder) Symptoms”.

Symptoms of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder)

According to the DSM, “The essential features of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are recurrent obsessions or compulsions…that are severe enough to be time consuming (i.e., they take more than 1 hour a day) or cause marked distress or significant impairment” (p. 456). The following specific diagnostic criteria are reproduced verbatim (except for codings and page references) from the DSM-IV TR (where ‘IV TR’ indicates fourth edition, text revision), pages 462-463.

Diagnostic Criteria for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

A. Either obsessions or compulsions:

Obsessions are as defined by (1), (2), (3), and (4):

  1. recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress
  2. the thoughts, impulses, or images are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems
  3. the person attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, impulses, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action
  4. the person recognizes that the obsessional thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of his or her own mind (not imposed from without as in thought insertion)

Compulsions as defined by (1) and (2):

  1. repetitive behaviors (e.g., hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (e.g., praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession, or according to rules that must be applied rigidly
  2. the behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or are clearly excessive

B. At some point during the course of the disorder, the person has recognized that the obsessions or compulsions are excessive or unreasonable. Note: This does not apply to children.

C. The obsessions or compulsions cause marked distress, are time consuming (take more than 1 hour a day), or significantly interfere with the person’s normal routine, occupational (or academic) functioning, or usual activities or relationships.

D. If another Axis I disorder is present, the content of the obsessions or compulsions is not restricted to it (e.g., preoccupation with food in the presence of an Eating Disorder; hair pulling in the presence of Trichotillomania; concern with appearance in the presence of Body Dysmorphic Disorder; preoccupation with drugs in the presence of a Substance Use Disorder; preoccupation with having a serious illness in the presence of Hypochondriasis; preoccupation with sexual urges or fantasies in the presence of a Paraphilia; or guilty ruminations in the presence of Major Depressive Disorder).

E. The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition.

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Our material is not intended as a substitute for direct consultation with a qualified mental health professional. Please seek professional advice if you are experiencing any mental health concern.

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