TMS and OCD: Signs and Treatment Methods

Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a severe and disruptive mental health condition. An estimated one in forty adults and one in 100 children have OCD in the U.S. The symptoms of OCD have a neurological basis, and OCD is in the same category as anxiety disorders. Without treatment, OCD can severely disrupt a person’s ability to function. OCD can make people withdraw from social situations, and have trouble going to work or school. Fortunately, OCD is treatable with a combination of medications and cognitive behavioral therapy. If medications do not work as expected, transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, can bring some relief.

What is OCD?

People with this condition experience a range of obsessions and compulsions that result in distress. For an official diagnosis of OCD, obsessions and compulsive behaviors must disrupt a person’s day for at least an hour. People with OCD will have uncontrollable, disruptive thoughts or urges, known as obsessions, and they feel the urge to perform a ritual, or compulsion, to alleviate the thoughts. Some people with OCD may only experience obsessive thoughts or compulsions. Others will struggle with both types of symptoms. 

In pop culture, OCD has been misinterpreted and is often played for laughs. OCD doesn’t mean a person has negative thoughts or has a harmful or nervous habit like biting their nails. Being a perfectionist or a “neat freak” doesn’t mean a person has OCD either. A truly obsessive thought that can indicate OCD would be thinking specific colors, or numbers are bad or good. An example of a compulsive habit can be washing their hands several times to rid themselves of germs. People with OCD may realize their thoughts or rituals are excessive, but they feel powerless to stop.

What are some examples of OCD symptoms?

OCD symptoms can range significantly from one patient to the next. But in general, OCD symptoms fall into one of the following types of obsessions and compulsions:

Fears of Contamination

Fear of contamination is a very common form of the disorder. In these cases, patients are terrified of possibly becoming infected or coming into contact with germs and bacteria. As a result, they often feel a compulsion to clean.

Obsessive Checking

People whose OCD takes this form will obsessively check locks, appliances, alarms, and light switches. They may also experience obsessions that look similar to hypochondria, thinking they may have a medical condition despite evidence to the contrary.

Need for Symmetry and Order

In these cases, patients have an obsession with symmetry and keeping things in a particular order. They may also think that certain numbers, colors, or letters are good or bad.


Intrusive thoughts occur in patients with a ruminating form of OCD. Their thoughts may be excessively violent or disturbing, but uncontrollable. People with OCD will create certain rituals to prevent the thoughts from occurring and, thus, experiencing distressing feelings and anxiety when they begin to ruminate.

For people who exhibit symptoms of obsessions in OCD, they will often commit to certain tasks, called compulsions, to rid themselves of anxiety and distress. Some common compulsions seen in the disorder include:

  • Counting certain objects in a specific order
  • Avoidance of things they believe may cause contamination
  • Washing hands several times in a row
  • Doing a task in a specific order to reach a “good number,” such as locking and unlocking a door multiple times in a row

What causes OCD?

Certain risk factors increase someone’s chances of developing the condition. However, it’s essential to understand that someone can have all the risk factors and still not get OCD. The reverse is also true. In people with OCD predispositions, stress can trigger symptoms and worsen existing ones. 

OCD can happen to men, women, and children, but women are often at a slightly higher risk than men. Most people first experience their symptoms as teenagers or young adults. Risk factors for OCD include:

  • Having a close, blood relative with OCD or other anxiety disorders
  • Being diagnosed with depression and anxiety
  • Experiencing trauma
  • Having a history of abuse as a child
  • Changes in brain structure

In rare cases, children can develop OCD after becoming infected with streptococcal bacteria. This is called pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders, also known as PANDAS.

How is OCD treated?

OCD can be effectively treated with a combination of medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. SSRI medicines are usually the first course of treatment for moderate to severe cases of OCD. In mild cases, therapy alone with relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes can help. Certain forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, called exposure and response prevention, are often used to treat the condition. With this form of treatment, a patient, with the guidance of a therapist, puts themselves into a situation that will trigger their OCD symptoms. During treatment, the patient learns how to cope with their obsessions. They also learn ways to lessen their feelings of anxiety with help from their doctor.

Can TMS help patients with OCD?

The FDA has officially approved TMS treatment for depression, but TMS can also be safely used for patients with OCD. Researchers have found that in OCD patients, certain parts of the brain are over-reactive and hyper-connected. With TMS treatment, these parts of the brain are impacted, and the procedure can slow down these over-reactive regions, alleviating symptoms. 

Another benefit to TMS is that it doesn’t require sedation. Treatment sessions last less than an hour, and patients are free to return to work or school the same day. If you’re in need of relief from OCD symptoms, contact Pulse TMS today. Our technicians are standing by to answer your questions about non-invasive TMS treatment for OCD.