Medically reviewed by Katelyn Hagerty, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/9/2022
We all engage in compulsive behavior from time to time, whether it’s meticulously organizing at home or just checking that the door is locked for a second or third time.
It’s common and normal to experience intrusive thoughts and compulsive behaviors every now and then. However, when these issues become repetitive or severe, it could be a sign that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD.
According to data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, an estimated 2.3 percent of American adults experience OCD at some point in life.
Just like other forms of mental illness, OCD can vary in severity and cause a range of different symptoms. For some people, OCD can be a debilitating disorder that causes unwanted stress, discomfort and frustration.
Below, we’ve explained what OCD is, as well as how it could affect you as a man. We’ve also discussed the risk factors that may contribute to OCD, as well as your options for treating and managing OCD if you’re affected.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic, long-lasting mental disorder that involves a mix of unwanted, uncontrollable thoughts (referred to as obsessions) and/or behaviors (referred to as compulsions).
If you have OCD, you may experience repetitive thoughts that simply don’t go away, even when you attempt to change the way you think. These thoughts might cause you to engage in certain behaviors to ease your feelings of anxiety, even if there’s no logical reason for this.
OCD can range from a mild type of mental illness that causes the occasional inconvenience to a severe one that takes over a person’s life, often with little time left to handle life’s responsibilities and enjoy its pleasures.
OCD can involve two distinct categories of symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. If you are affected by OCD, you may experience obsessions, compulsions or a combination of both types of symptoms.
Obsessions are thoughts, impulses and mental images that enter your mind on a regular basis, usually more than once a day. Most obsessions involve strong feelings, such as anxiety, fear or disgust.
While some obsessions are grounded in logic — for example, worrying that the door is unlocked — others may not make sense. If you have OCD, you may even recognize that your obsessions are illogical even while they cause you to feel worried and anxious.
Common obsessions include:
Fear of contamination by germs, chemicals, environmental contaminants, bodily fluids or other substances
Needing certain items or information to be symmetrical, perfectly organized, even or just “done right”
Feeling fearful about something bad happening to yourself or others, such as a personal injury, burglary, fire or other harmful event
Worrying about doing something bad or immoral, such as breaking a rule, offending God or thinking something taboo
Feeling anxious about saying something bad, blurting out an insult or engaging in an impulsive way toward other people
Compulsions are repetitive, often illogical behaviors that you feel you need to engage in due to obsessive thoughts. These behaviors might help you to neutralize certain obsessions and clear your mind so that you can focus on other things.
If you have OCD, you may engage in compulsive behaviors several times a day in order to get rid of any feelings of anxiety caused by your obsessions.
Common compulsions include:
Excessively washing your hands or cleaning yourself
Checking things obsessively, such as locked doors or open windows
Counting things, such as items or steps taken, without any logical reason
Organizing and arranging things in a very precise, orderly fashion
Mentally reviewing events to check for potential mistakes
Repeating things to make sure they’re done properly
Doing things more than once to reach a “good number”
Avoiding situations that might trigger your OCD symptoms
Seeking reassurance from other people
Compulsions can be time-consuming. If your OCD is severe, you may find that your compulsive behaviors take time away from more important life tasks, such as maintaining relationships with your friends and family, working or studying.
Everyone, including people without OCD, develops obsessions and compulsive behaviors from time to time. What defines OCD is the intrusiveness and severity of these symptoms, as well as the impact that they can have on your mental wellbeing and quality of life.
It’s normal to experience obsessive thoughts occasionally. For example, if you’ve recently met a new romantic partner and feel like you have a bright future with them, you might find it difficult to stop thinking about them.
Alternatively, exciting opportunities like a new job or training program might be difficult to get out of your mind, especially if they have the potential to change your life for the better.
Being preoccupied with these things doesn’t mean that you have OCD, especially if you’re able to maintain normal daily activities in spite of your thoughts and feelings.
Similarly, not all repetitive behavior is a type of compulsion. For example, it’s completely normal to have a repetitive morning or bedtime routine, to practice things in order to develop skills, or to pray when you’re feeling in need of help.
These are all healthy, common behaviors. For a person with OCD, obsessions and compulsions aren’t positive things — instead, they’re things you may feel compelled to do to relieve anxiety, to feel “complete” or stop yourself from being a “bad person.”
Like with many other mental illnesses, experts aren’t yet aware of precisely what causes OCD to develop. However, research suggests that a variety of factors, including specific genes and the structure of your brain, may be involved.
Studies involving twins and families suggest that there may be a significant genetic component to OCD. For example, people who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with OCD have a higher risk of also developing OCD at some point in life.
Other potential risk factors for OCD include:
Brain structure. Data from imaging studies show that people with OCD have different structure and function in certain regions of the brain, including the subcortical structures and frontal cortex. This may affect thinking and contribute to OCD symptoms.
Injury to the brain. In a 2003 review, researchers noted that traumatic brain injuries are linked to the development of OCD. Even mild injuries that affect the brain are linked to an elevated risk of mental health disorders.
Childhood trauma. Some research suggests that traumatic experiences that occur in a person’s childhood might contribute to the development of OCD. However, there’s only a small amount of scientific research available on this potential link right now.
Streptococcus infection. A form of sudden-onset OCD known as PANDAS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections) may occur in children affected by Streptococcus infection.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder often co-occurs with other disorders that can affect the brain, such as body dysmorphic disorder, Huntington’s disease, epilepsy, Sydenham chorea, Tourette syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.
Although OCD can happen at any point in life, most people start to develop symptoms during childhood or adolescence. Men typically develop OCD symptoms earlier than women, while women are more likely to be affected in adulthood, particularly after pregnancy.
If you’re worried that you might have obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s best to seek help from a mental health provider.
You can do this by talking to your primary care provider and requesting a mental health referral, by scheduling an appointment with a psychiatrist or from your home using our online psychiatry service.
Your mental health provider may ask you some questions about your symptoms and use a tool called the short OCD screener to gain an understanding of how you think and feel. This short test features six questions designed to help detect symptoms of OCD.
Your mental health provider may ask you to complete a more detailed assessment, such as the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale, or Y-BOCS. This test involves rating your symptoms, their severity and the effect that they have on certain aspects of life for you.
While talking to your mental health provider, you may be asked:
What specific OCD symptoms you experience
How these symptoms affect your daily life
What strategies you use to cope with your symptoms
How much time you spend on these symptoms each day
Any effects that your OCD has on your social life and wellbeing
They may also ask you about other mental and/or physical health issues you’ve experienced, as well as your past or current use of medication.
Talking about OCD can be challenging, but it’s important to give your mental health provider as much information as you can. Remember that they’re a mental health professional — they’re not going to brush you off or feel judgmental.
The more you can tell your provider about how you think, feel and behave, the better equipped they’ll be to provide an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder shares some symptoms in common with other mental disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, autism and hoarding disorder.
If your symptoms are similar to one of these disorders, your mental health provider may ask you to complete additional tests and questionnaires.
Although there’s no cure for obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s a treatable condition that often improves with ongoing care.
Most of the time, treatment for OCD involves a mix of medication, psychotherapy and changes to your habits and daily life to make your symptoms less severe and easier to deal with.
Currently, there’s no FDA-approved medication that’s used solely to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, several antidepressants and antipsychotic medications are approved by the FDA to help to treat the symptoms of OCD. These include:
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications, which are used to treat depression, work by increasing serotonin levels in your brain. Common SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac®), paroxetine (Paxil®), sertraline (Zoloft®) and others.
Most of the time, SSRIs are prescribed at higher doses to treat OCD than for anxiety or depression.
Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs). The TCA antidepressant clomipramine (Anafranil®) may also be used to treat OCD. AS an older antidepressant, clomipramine has a risk of side effects and is generally only used as a second-line treatment.
Antipsychotic medications. Some antipsychotic medications are used with SSRIs for better results. Research suggests that aripiprazole (Abilify®), risperidone (Risperdal®) and haloperidol (Haldol®) may be effective add-on treatment options for OCD.
If you’re prescribed medication for OCD, it may take several months to start working. Make sure to use your medication as prescribed and talk to your healthcare provider if you experience any side effects or don’t feel like your medication is working as it should.
Like other mental health disorders, OCD often becomes less severe with psychotherapy, or talk therapy.
Several different forms of psychotherapy are used to treat OCD, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). One form of CBT that has been found specifically to help tread the symptoms of OCD is exposure and response prevention, or ERP. Psychotherapy may be combined with an SSRI or other medication for optimal results.
We offer the ability to take part in online therapy from your home, with licensed therapists who can help you to cope with OCD and learn new techniques for managing your symptoms.
Although treating OCD usually requires medication and/or therapy, making small, meaningful changes to your daily life can make other forms of treatment more effective and assist you as you make progress. Try to:
Exercise regularly, even if it’s just for 20 to 30 minutes a day
Eat a balanced diet that’s built around healthy, nutrient-rich foods
Maintain a consistent sleep schedule that helps you feel refreshed and rested
Reach out to friends and family members when you need emotional support
More than anything else, it’s important to stay patient when you’re treating OCD. With the right amount of time and an effective treatment plan, you can gain control over your obsessions and compulsions and prevent them from controlling your life.
If you’re concerned about OCD, the best thing you can do is to talk to a licensed mental health provider about your symptoms.
You can get help by talking to your primary care provider, meeting with a mental health provider in your city or from home using our online mental health services.
Even when it’s severe, OCD is treatable. With the right combination of medication, therapy and a healthy, balanced lifestyle, you’ll be able to overcome obsessive fears and gain more control over your daily life.