Diagnosing obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

It is very important you visit your GP if you have symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

The impact of OCD on your day-to-day life can be reduced if the condition is diagnosed and effectively treated.

Many people with OCD do not report their symptoms to their GP because they feel ashamed or embarrassed. They may also try to disguise their symptoms from family and friends.

However, if you have OCD, you should not feel ashamed or embarrassed. Like diabetes or asthma, OCD is a chronic (long-term) health condition, and it is not your fault you have it.

Initial screening

When visiting your GP, they will probably ask a series of questions.

The questions, which are part of the Fineberg-Zohar screening questionnaire, will help determine whether you are likely to have OCD. But like all screening questionnaires, people who do not have OCD may score positively.

The questions you will be asked may be similar to those listed below:

  • do you wash or clean a lot?
  • do you check things a lot?
  • do you have thoughts that keep bothering you that you would like to get rid of but cannot?
  • do your daily activities take a long time to finish?
  • are you concerned about putting things in a special order or are you upset by mess?
  • do these problems trouble you?


If the results of the initial screening questions suggest you have OCD, the severity of your symptoms will be assessed either by your GP or a mental health professional.

There are several different methods of assessment. All involve asking detailed questions to find out how much of your day-to-day life is affected by obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviour.

During the assessment, it is important you are open and honest, as accurate and truthful responses will ensure you receive the most appropriate treatment.

Severity of OCD

The severity of OCD can be determined by how much your symptoms affect your ability to function normally on a day-to-day basis.

Healthcare professionals refer to the disruption of daily function as functional impairment. OCD is classified into three levels of severity. They are:

  • mild functional impairment  obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour that occupies less than one hour of your day
  • moderate functional impairment  obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour that occupies one to three hours of your day
  • severe functional impairment  obsessive thinking and compulsive behaviour that occupies more than three hours of your day

Getting help for others

The friends and relatives of a person with OCD sometimes “play along” with their strange behaviour to avoid upsetting them.

However, this is not recommended because it can reinforce the person’s obsessive-compulsive behaviour. It is better to confront them with the reality of their unusual behaviour and suggest they seek medical advice.

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