5 Common Subtypes of OCD and Their Symptoms

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by a pattern of unwanted and intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and resultant repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Without help from a mental health expert like Dr. Alejandra Suzuki, these compulsions and obsessions can interfere with your daily life and cause untold distress. But while people with OCD are often depicted as all being germaphobes, the symptoms of OCD often take on varying themes. These themes give rise to the following five subcategories of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Contamination and Cleaning

Contamination and cleaning is the most common type of OCD and the one you see most depicted in popular culture. It affects about 5 percent of people with OCD and involves obsessive thoughts about contracting an illness or spreading germs. And while everyone can worry about dirt and germs, people with this type of OCD can take things to the extreme. Some patients may wash their hands so much that they bleed or overuse cleaning products like bleach. In some cases, people with this OCD will take extreme measures to avoid touching doorknobs, sinks, countertops, other people, and more.

Taboo Thoughts

Taboo or unwanted thoughts are a common occurrence for many people. Occasionally, an “unacceptable” thought crosses your mind, but you get over it. For people with this type of OCD, however, letting go is easier said than done. The thoughts often stray from the patient’s values, which can cause significant distress. Most commonly, they can revolve around sensitive themes like sexual orientation, pedophilia, relationships, and harming others. And while people with OCD never act on their thoughts, they can go to great lengths to avoid them, which is often counterproductive.

Symmetry and Order

Symmetry and order OCD is characterized by a fixation on putting things in order or achieving symmetry in your environment. But while someone else may take a bit longer to clean their room, people with this type of OCD spend hours performing the same task repeatedly until it “feels right.” This may involve arranging one pair of shoes in the same spot ten times or using a ruler to arrange the bookshelf.


Hoarding disorder, which is a different mental health condition, differs from hoarding-prevalent OCD in terms of the distress experienced by the hoarder. People with OCD do not want all the items they collect but are forced to keep them due to obsessive thoughts. They may persistently worry that throwing away an object could cause them or someone else harm or similar fears.

Doubt and Double-Checking

Many people with OCD experience doubt to some level. However, patients with this type of OCD doubt everything, including their perception of reality. They may obsess over whether they locked the door while leaving the house. And while a mental confirmation may suffice for someone else, these patients may go back to check the door multiple times.

Discuss OCD Symptoms with a Mental Health Provider

OCD compulsions and obsessions can come in a wide range of themes, but they usually fall into these five categories. That said, you can experience symptoms that fall into several categories or are not described here. Whatever the case, you should always discuss any thoughts or routines that affect your daily activities and that you cannot seem to avoid with a mental health provider. They can walk you through effective treatments and therapies like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Call or visit their office to learn more and get started on treatment today.

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