OCD in Adults: 5 Things to Know

November 24, 2017

When people think of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), they often envision someone who is a germophobe and is ruled by the desire to keep things organized. The phrase, “I’m so OCD,” may be used casually when referring to someone’s organizational behaviors. These misconceptions of the disorder do a disservice to individuals who are struggling to identify symptoms and want to seek help.

In the United States, about 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children have OCD. To raise awareness about this disorder, we’ve summarized what OCD is; its symptoms, risk factors and treatment.

So, what is OCD and how does it manifest? Let’s dive in.

What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a common, long-lasting disorder marked by uncontrollable, recurring thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that a person feels the urge to repeat. OCD is a serious mental illness that is characterized by high levels of anxiety and emotional distress.

Often used as a joke on TV and in movies, OCD is a debilitating disorder, frequently interfering with a person’s daily life. For example, someone with OCD who is obsessed with germs won’t be able to stop thinking about getting infected in an unwanted or disturbing way. These thoughts may deter them from going to public places.

Signs and Symptoms of OCD

People with OCD may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions or both. There is a possibility that one’s symptoms will change over time.

Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges or mental images that cause anxiety. Obsessions can include:

  • Concern with germs or contamination
  • Unwanted taboo thoughts
  • Aggressive thoughts towards others or self
  • Organizing and/or making things symmetrical

Compulsions are repetitive behaviors a person with OCD feels the urge to complete in response to an obsessive thought. Compulsions may include:

  • Excessive cleaning and/or handwashing
  • Arranging things in a certain order
  • Repeatedly checking on things
  • Compulsive counting

To be clear, not all habits are compulsions or obsessions. However, people with OCD spend at least one hour a day focusing on these thoughts or behaviors. Even if they recognize that their thoughts or behaviors are excessive, they cannot control them, and do not get any pleasure from performing them.

Some individuals with OCD may have a tic disorder. Motor tics are sudden, repetitive movements. For example, eye blinking, shoulder shrugging or head jerking are all motor tics. OCD vocal tics may include repetitive sniffing or throat-clearing.

Risk Factors

Usually, people with OCD are diagnosed by the age of 19. Boys often have an earlier age of onset. While the causes of OCD are unknown, genetics, brain structure and functioning, and environment are all risk factors for the disorder.

  • Genetics: Studies have shown that people with an immediate family member who has OCD are at a higher risk for developing the disorder. The risk is even higher if the family member developed OCD as a child or teenager.
  • Brain Structure and Functioning: Studies have shown that people with OCD have differences in the frontal cortex and subcortical structures of the brain. Research about this risk factor is still ongoing.
  • Environment: People who have experienced some sort of trauma during their childhood have an increased risk of developing OCD.


OCD is usually treated with medication, psychotherapy or some combination of both. While most patients with OCD respond to treatment, some may continue to experience symptoms of the disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, serotonin reuptake inhibitors and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, both commonly prescribed antidepressants, are used to help reduce OCD symptoms. In terms of psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can be as effective as medication for individuals with OCD. CBT emphasizes the importance of thinking through thoughts, feelings and actions and is based on the Cognitive Model of Emotional Response.

It’s important to note that people with OCD may also have other mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression.

One way to help determine what medications may work best for a patient with OCD is with genetic testing.

How Can Genetic Testing Help OCD?

Genomind’s Genecept Assay® is a genetic test created to assist clinicians in optimizing treatment decisions for patients with a mental health illness like OCD. The test examines patient-specific genetic markers that can identify treatments that are more likely to work as intended, not have an effect or cause a negative effect.

Learn more about OCD here.