Types of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition characterized by intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). OCD is classified as an anxiety disorder because the obsessions create unpleasant feelings of unease. Many people with OCD engage in compulsive behavior in an attempt to ease the anxiety caused by the intrusive thoughts.

Mental health professionals have sorted OCD into a few different obsessive-compulsive disorder types based on symptoms. Some of the most common types are:

Checking OCD

People with the checking form of OCD often experience intrusive thoughts of harm. They may envision their house going up in flames, for instance, or fear that the brakes on their bike will fail while they are out for a ride. These individuals engage in repetitive checking behavior that is intended to prevent harm.

The person who experiences intrusive thoughts of a house fire, for instance, may check and recheck the stove (and iron and curling iron) to be sure the appliances are off each time they leave home. The person who pictures their bike brakes failing while they travel downhill may be compelled to adjust their brakes before they hop on—and every few minutes throughout their ride.

Checking behavior can make people late for appointments and interfere with relationships. Repetitive checking can also damage physical objects (like bike brakes).

Contamination OCD

The contamination form of OCD is marked by an unhealthy focus on dirt, disease, germs or illness. In some cases, it involves fear of mental contamination instead; affected individuals may feel dirty when others say negative or abusive things.

People who have contamination-type OCD frequently engage in repetitive handwashing, cleaning or bathing. They may scrub their skin raw or, in severe cases, attempt to wash with bleach or disinfectant. They rarely feel clean for long, although they may appear physically spotless to outside observers.

Some people with this form of OCD also go to great lengths to avoid possible or perceived exposure to germs or dirt. They may refuse to use public bathrooms or classify one set of clothes as “clean” and the others as “dirty.” Some clean their houses excessively.

Those who experience fear of mental contamination also engage in cleansing rituals, although there is no actual dirt to clean away.

Ordering OCD

Most humans prefer order and symmetry to chaos. This desire for order is extreme in individuals who have the ordering form of OCD. A person with ordering OCD may insist on aligning the throw pillows on the couch in a particular order and be unable to relax if even one pillow is slightly out of place. Another person with this type of OCD may not be able to begin work until each item on their desk is precisely placed.

In some cases, people with this form of OCD believe that harm will occur if they fail to align things properly.

Intrusive Thoughts OCD

Some people with OCD are predominantly bothered by recurring intrusive thoughts. These thoughts are often violent or sexual in nature and are usually very disturbing to affected individuals. A person who has OCD with intrusive thoughts may envision pushing fellow pedestrians into traffic.

People who experience such intrusive thoughts may go to extreme lengths to avoid harming other people. They may avoid being around others or refuse to handle sharp objects, for instance.

Most people with this type of OCD do not commit violence.

Hoarding OCD

A compulsion to collect and amass objects is called hoarding. Many hoarders have extreme difficulty parting with possessions, even seemingly useless objects, such as old newspapers and too-small clothes. In some cases, the individual’s living space is overwhelmed with possessions.

According to the International OCD Foundation, as many as 1 in 4 people with OCD have compulsive hoarding. Approximately 20% of hoarders have non-hoarding OCD symptoms as well.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jun 12
  1. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/obsessivecompulsivedisorder.html
  2. What is OCD? OCD Foundation. https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/
  3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. American Academy of Family Physicians. https://familydoctor.org/condition/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/?adfree=true
  4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Obsessive-compulsive-Disorder
  5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd.shtml
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  7. Hoarding: The Basics. Anxiety and Depression Association of America. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/hoarding-basics
  8. Hoarding Fact Sheet. International OCD Foundation. https://iocdf.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Hoarding-Fact-Sheet.pdf
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