It’s normal, on occasion, to go back and double check that the iron is unplugged or worry that you might be contaminated by germs, or even have an occasional unpleasant, violent thoughts. But if you have OCD , these behaviours are difficult to resist and interfere with your daily life.
OCD causes the brain to get stuck on a particular thought or urge. For example, you may check the stove 20 times to make sure it’s really turned off because you’re terrified of burning down your house, or wash your hands until they are scrubbed raw for fear of germs. While you don’t derive any sense of pleasure from performing these repetitive behaviors, they may offer some passing relief for the anxiety generated by the obsessive thoughts.
What is OCD?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent obsessions or compulsions that are inordinately time-consuming re that cause significant distress or impairment. Basically, OCD has two main parts : obsessions and compulsions.
Obsessions are persistent thoughts, pictures, urges or doubts that appear in your mind again and again. They interrupt your thoughts against your control, and can be really frightening and disturbing. They make you feel anxious, disgusted or uncomfortable.
You might feel you can’t share them with others or that there is something wrong with you that you have to hide. Many people with OCD recognize that the thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of their mind and are excessive or unreasonable. Yet these intrusive thoughts cannot be settled by logic or reasoning. Most people with OCD try to ignore or suppress such obsessions or offset them with some other thought or action.
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession. The behaviors are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or a feared situation. In the most severe cases, a constant repetition of rituals may fill the day, making a normal routine impossible. Although the compulsion may bring some relief to the worry, the obsession returns and the cycle repeats over and over.
The typical onset of obsessive-compulsive disorder is before the age of twenty. It is very uncommon for obsessive-compulsive behavior to begin after the age of thirty-five, though it can occur. Obsessions and compulsions are prevalent among children and occur about equally in men and women.
What are the symptoms?
Some of the more common obsession signs and symptoms include :
- Fear of being contaminated with germs or dirt by shaking hands with another person or touching objects that are not yours
- Feeling intensely stressed out when certain belonging are not facing in the same direction (need for order and symmetry)
- Avoiding situations that could cause obsessive thoughts (e.g., avoiding shaking another person’s hand for fear of getting germs or dirt on your own hands)
- Constant doubt that you locked the door to your house/car and/or turned your stove off
- Thoughts about horrifically hurting yourself or hurting others
- Obsessive thoughts about shouting inappropriate things or obscenities
- Feeling stressed out when you replay unwanted sexual images in your head repeatedly
- Fear of being embarrassed
- Excessive doubt and need for reassurance
Common compulsion signs and symptoms include:
- Excessive hand washing, often causing your hands to become raw and sometimes bleed
- Patterned counting behaviors
- Repeated checking that the stove is turned off
- Repeated checking of door locks
- Refusing to shake hands or touch door knobs
- Eating foods in a specific order and/or not allowing foods to touch
- Collecting or hoarding items
- Repeating a prayer or phrase to yourself
- Ordering and arranging things in a precise, symmetrical way
If you are suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, your symptoms may come and go over time and also vary in intensity.
What causes OCD ?
Although it is not clear as to what causes OCD, some known factors are:
- Genetic factors: OCD can sometimes be inherited from the parent.
- Biological/neurological factors: Some research links the development of OCD to a chemical imbalance of serotonin in the brain.
- Life changes: Sometimes, major life changes such as a new job or the birth of a child thrust more responsibility on a person. This can trigger OCD.
- Behavioral factors: People who are extremely organized, neat, meticulous and those who like to be in charge from a young age, sometimes run the risk of developing OCD.
- Personal experience: A person who has experienced severe trauma is likely to be affected with OCD. For instance, contracting a severe rash by touching rat poison in the house, can lead to hand-washing compulsions.
Treatment of OCD
The most common treatment options for obsessive-compulsive disorder are medication and psychotherapy, or a combination of both.
If you are suffering from OCD, you may be prescribed serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to control symptoms. Antidepressants are normally tried first to control OCD symptoms. The most commonly prescribed medications include:
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Fluoxetine (Prozac)
- Clomipramine (Anafranil)
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox, CR)
- Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
In extreme cases in which no other treatments provide symptom relief, people with OCD may be treated with psychiatric neurosurgery. For example, deep brain stimulation to areas of the brain involved in motor control can help reduce the frequency of obsessive compulsive thoughts.
If you have been prescribed a medication for treatment of OCD, it is important to note that many of these medications may take a number of weeks or months to have a full effect on your symptoms.
Your doctor might also suggest psychotherapy as a treatment option for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Psychotherapy is meant to change your negative thought patterns to related to obsessions and resultant compulsions. With OCD, exposure and response prevention (ERP) has been found to be the most effective treatment option. A form of cognitive behavioral therapy, this method of exposure therapy gradually exposes you to your obsession (e.g., dirt) to allow you to cope with your anxiety in a healthier way. Many times, doctors will prescribe ERP therapy in conjunction with medications when SRIs and SSRIs are not effective enough on their own. Another treatment option is satiation therapy, in which clients confront their obsessional thoughts for so long that they lose their meaning.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic condition, meaning if you are suffering from this disorder, you may cope with it for your entire life. However, as our understanding of this condition grows, our treatment options and success rates of treatment evolve. Educate yourself about your condition, follow your doctor’s advice, and learn the warning signs and symptoms. Doing so keeps you proactive and informed of your disorder and enables you to live a healthy and productive life.