Everyone might have a quirky compulsion or two, but if these actions interfere with your life and cause you great mental anguish, you might have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Commonly referred to as OCD, people with this anxiety disorder have illogical thoughts and fears that compel them to engage in uncontrollable ritualistic behaviors. It is as if your “fight or flight” instincts are telling you there is danger when there is not. As its name suggests, OCD has two components: obsession and compulsion.

Symptoms of OCD usually make themselves known during childhood or adolescence, but some people may not seek treatment for years. Symptoms may improve or worsen during different times of your life. For example, you may find yourself giving in to your compulsions more often during times of great stress.

Obsessions are thoughts or impulses that are accompanied by distressing feelings that  dominate your life. According to the International OCD Foundation, obsessions can be grouped into bigger categories. Obsessions relating to contamination cause people to worry about dirt, body fluids and germs. If you are consumed by your fear of losing control, you might be afraid of acting on an impulse to harm yourself or someone else, or think you might yell out insults or swear words. An obsession with harm might mean that you fear you will be responsible for a terrible occurrence or that you will hurt someone else because you were not careful enough. Someone with OCD might be infiltrated with unwanted sexual thoughts, including fear of homosexuality, or forbidden or perverse sexual thoughts or impulses. Those obsessed with perfectionism might fear that they will forget important information. Religious obsessions involve a fixation with morality or a fear of blasphemy. Other obsessions include being overly superstitious about lucky or unlucky numbers or certain colors, and a concern with getting a disease like cancer.

Common categories of people with OCD:
These obsessions drive someone with OCD to engage in repeated behaviors that may or may not quell the anxiety. According to Helpguide.org, people with OCD often fall into certain categories:

Washers: These people may wash their hands until their skin is raw or refuse to touch a doorknob unless they clean it or their skin does not come into direct contact with it.

Checkers: These people go above and beyond checking things that could lead to harm. This may involve making sure over and over again that you locked the car or turned off the oven.

Doubters and sinners: These people have an irrational fear that they will cause something terrible to happen to themselves or others if they do something wrong. They might be concerned that God will punish them for their actions or try to replace what them deem to be bad words with good ones.

Counters and arrangers: These people might repeat certain bodily motions or actions. They won’t be satisfied until items, like books on a shelf or shoes in a closet, are in a certain order.

Hoarders: These people don’t throw anything out, fearing they might need these items in the future or will forget something important if they no longer have the item. Routines, religious practices and learning a new skill are not considered compulsions. Like bipolar disorder and eating disorders, OCD symptoms can be triggered by certain objects, actions or circumstances.

There is no specific lab test that can diagnose OCD, so your best bet if you think you have the disorder is to see your doctor and explain the severity and frequency of your symptoms. He or she may run blood tests to rule out other conditions. A mental health professional can also diagnose you. There is no clear cause for OCD, but the disorder is believed to be a combination of biological, environmental and neurological factors.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is thought to be the most effective manner in which to treat OCD. Family and group therapy are other options. Medicine has also been shown to help control symptoms of OCD. Antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft are often the first line of action, but it may take a few tries for the doctor to find the right medicine for you. Patients with OCD can find in-patient facilities or places that offer more intensive programs, especially if they have coinciding disorders or addictions.

The line between someone with OCD and a cautious person can be hard to draw. The International OCD Foundation has an informative pamphlet that outlines the disorder’s symptoms and gives examples of what would and would not be considered a compulsion.