Doctor analyzing patient


One might think it’s difficult to diagnose something seemingly invisible such as OCD. 

While it may not be obvious at first, there are ways to observe and analyze potential signs and symptoms. 

For one, a symptom may be minor enough to deal with. For another, it can severely impact the quality of life. 

So how do you diagnose OCD? 

First, let’s look into what OCD actually is. 

Diagnosing OCD

1. What is OCD?

There are a lot of preconceptions and stereotypes about OCD, some for good reason. 

OCD is defined as a mental health condition where symptoms of obsessions and compulsions are present. 

While we all have our own quirks, those who have OCD tend to suffer greater than the average person. 

These obsessions and compulsions aren’t just a mild inconvenience. They can impact several areas of life, such as going to work, school, social life, or personal values. 

Many types of OCD exist beyond the basic notion of being a “clean freak”. 

It can manifest in relationship anxiety, personal health, existential thoughts, checking appliances, and many more.

No matter how the obsessions and compulsions show up, day-to-day life can become more stressful and anxiety-inducing than need be. 

There are so many ways OCD can show up, so how does it form in the first place?

2. What Causes OCD? 

While there is no one solid answer, there are several factors that play a part in the cause of OCD. 

Experts think that OCD can run in families, though genetics is only one part of the story. 

Brain chemistry is a major component of how one functions. With OCD, research suggests the front part of the brain and deeper structures struggle to communicate

The chemical messenger that assists this communication is called serotonin. So in theory, serotonin production is additionally important to ensure proper communication within the brain

Life events can also have an impact on the formation of OCD signs and symptoms. 

If involved in a severe car crash, one may engage in specific compulsions such as tapping the steering wheel three times to “ensure” safety. 

OCD is found to emerge in two age categories: 8-12, and late teens to adulthood. Within these two categories, experts believe there are differences in the development of OCD. 

Studies have shown that genetic influence is most present in childhood compared to developments in adulthood, showing the possible combination of influences that enable it to form. 

When looking for possible signs of OCD, what should be kept in mind?

3. Signs, Symptoms, & Diagnosis

As seen in the terminology, obsessions and compulsions are the main factors in diagnosing OCD. So what can this potentially look like?

OCD is cyclical in nature. Something triggers a need for obsessing, which leads to compulsions in an attempt to self-soothe the distressful feelings. 

Though the compulsions can seem helpful, they only reinforce the need to engage in the unhelpful coping cycle. 

A mild example is being exposed to a situation where one feels out of control, which triggers stress responses. In an attempt to regain control, one could pick at their skin until they bleed. 

Ultimately, this does nothing helpful to mend the stress, only causing further discomfort and damage to oneself. 

For a more extreme example, OCD can look like constantly checking to see if the oven is off after having experienced a house fire. This type of compulsive checking can interfere immensely in the day-to-day and perpetuates a constant state of fear. 

OCD typically does not operate from a conscious level, meaning it works mostly in the background of your awareness. 

With this in mind, self-awareness is a great tool for identifying triggers and reactive behaviors that may typically slip past you. 

As well, asking close friends and family if they notice any “odd” behaviors you may do can be quite helpful as they are outside of your cyclical patterns. 

Overall, only specialized clinicians can diagnose OCD

The therapist will look for these symptoms to determine potential signs of OCD: 

  • Obsessions 
  • Compulsive behaviors 
  • Obsessions and compulsions greatly impact the quality of life and important activities 

There is no need for blood or genetic tests since many possible factors cause OCD. So an interview is needed to get the full picture. 

If you want personal clarity before seeing a clinician, you can take an online test to clue you in on potential indicators of how OCD may show up in your life. 

Conclusion and Closing Thoughts 

All in all, OCD can get tricky if left untreated.

It’s important to take action toward overall wellness to ensure no stone goes unturned. With the combination of personal and professional support, greater understanding and well-being are right around the corner.