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What is an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a psychological illness that causes repeated unwanted sensations or thoughts (obsession) or an intense urge to do something over and over (compulsion).
Some people have obsessions while others have compulsions. Some people experience both obsessions and compulsions.
OCD is not about a habit like biting nails or having occasional negative thoughts. An example of obsessive thinking can be – a person thinking some colors are good or bad. Similarly, a compulsive habit can be washing your hands multiple times after touching something that might be dirty. Though people with OCD might not want to think like that or do those things, they might feel powerless to stop.
OCD typically includes both obsessions and compulsions. However, it is also possible to experience only the symptoms of either obsessions or compulsions. Often people don’t realize that their obsessions and compulsions are unreasonable and excessive.
Every person has habits or thoughts that they repeat often. People with OCD have actions or actions that might:
- Consume at least an hour a day
- Aren’t enjoyable
- Are beyond control
- Interfere with work, social life, or normal functioning
Obsessions are persistent, unwanted, and repeated thoughts, urges, and mental images that can be intrusive and cause anxiety and distress. People try to ignore these thoughts or try to get rid of them by performing a ritual or compulsive behavior. These obsessions usually intrude when a person is trying to think or concentrate on something.
Obsessions typically have some themes to them, including:
- Horrific toughs about harming yourself or losing control
- Requiring things to be in order and symmetrical
- Having difficulty managing uncertainty
- Fear of dirt or contamination
- Undesirable thoughts on aggression or religious or sexual subjects
Compulsions are repetitive behaviors that a person might feel driven to perform. These repetitive acts help reduce anxiety related to obsession or avoid something terrible from happening. However, compulsions don’t bring any pleasure and might only offer temporary anxiety relief.
Like obsessions, compulsions also have some themes, such as:
- Following strict routine
- Demanding reassurance
- Washing and cleaning
OCD typically begins in the teenage or young adult years. However, it can also start in childhood. Its symptoms generally grow and vary in severity throughout life. Obsessions and compulsion types can also change over time. Symptoms typically worsen if you experience excess stress.
Experts consider OCD to be a life-long disorder that can have mild to moderate symptoms or be severe enough to disrupt your entire life.
Experts aren’t sure how people develop OCD, but they have observed that stress worsens OCD symptoms.
Anyone can develop OCD, but it is more common in women, and symptoms often appear in teenage or young adult years.
Though experts don’t know the exact reasons why people experience OCD, they have theories that include the following factors:
- Genetics – A genetic component might be responsible for OCD, but the researchers haven’t identified the specific genes.
- Biology – The body’s natural chemistry or brain functions can also result in the development of OCD.
- Learning – A person can develop compulsive and obsessive behaviors by watching family members or friends.
OCD Risk Factors
Experts believe the following factors can increase the risk of triggering or developing obsessive-compulsive disorder:
- Stressful life events – If a person experiences stressful or traumatic events, their risk of OCD might increase. For some reason, this reaction can trigger intrusive thoughts, and emotional distress, which are the characteristics of OCD.
- Family history – Having family members with obsessive-compulsive disorder can also significantly increase a person’s risk of developing OCD.
- Mental health issues – Various mental health issues including, depression, substance abuse disorder, anxiety disorder, and tic disorder, can also trigger OCD.
If you experience OCD symptoms, it is best to consult with a doctor – they will conduct a physical examination and blood test to ensure another medical condition isn’t causing your symptoms. They will also discuss your habits, feelings, and thoughts.
While there is no cure for OCD, there are ways to manage its symptoms. A doctor can prescribe medication, therapy, or a combination of various treatments.
OCD treatments can include:
Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT can help change thinking patterns. The doctor puts the patient in a situation that simulates anxiety or sets off compulsions. This process will help you learn how to reduce and then stop your intrusive thoughts and behaviors.
Psychiatric drugs called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) can help you control compulsions and obsessions. However, these medications might take up to 2 to 4 months to show their effects. common SSRIs include,
- citalopram (Celexa)
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
if you experience OCD symptoms after taking these drugs for the required duration, your doctor might recommend antipsychotic medications, such as Abilify or Risperdal.
In some cases, when medication and therapy didn’t make a difference, your doctor might ask you to consider devices that change electrical activity in a specific brain area.TMS is an FDA-approved treatment for OCD that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells.
A more complex procedure is also available that uses electrode implants in the head for deep brain stimulation.