What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder which creates unwanted obsessions and compulsions.
OCD causes undesired thoughts, images or feelings. It Induces compulsive behavior, such as repeating the same task over and over, and if ignored may cause severe anxiety.
It is a widespread disorder, affecting about three of every 100 adults. It usually makes a debut in the late teens where both genders are equally affected. (1)
It is very common for people to be concerned about forgetting important things such as switching off the lights or a stove. However, for people with OCD, this feeling can turn into obsessive anxiety.
People with OCD will often have to repeat tasks several times to get rid of the anxiety. It is typically not something that can be controlled by willpower.
Many factors may influence the development of OCD. Doctors have drawn connections to genetics and brain structure. However external events, such as trauma and abuse occurring during childhood, can also be triggers. (2)
Experts also believe that people with responsible, reliable personality traits may have increased risks as well. This type of person might be scared of making a mistake, which may eventually turn into an obsession. (3)
Adults affected by OCD are usually aware of their behavior and may acknowledge it as unpleasant or illogical. However, it is not an easy sensation to fight.
They generally have different “rituals” that must be followed. For example setting alarm clocks for a specific time or washing hands according to a lucky number. (4)
As its name suggests, OCD can cause two types of symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. Some people might only experience one, while others may be affected by both. (5)
An obsession is an unwanted, sometimes disturbing thought or image portrayed in the mind. It will generally cause anxiety, distress and sometimes shame and guilt.
For example, people affected might obsess about specific routines. If they are not followed, the affected could get disturbing ideas that loved ones would become hurt. (6)
Obsessions may include:
The affected could take longer to leave the house because of the fear of forgetting something. They might repeatedly be seen returning to lock the door.
Alternatively, the person may avoid specific actions or events due to a dread of becoming contaminated with germs.
Unwanted thoughts may involve two kinds: doubts or things that are considered taboo. (8)
Some people affected by OCD may be overwhelmed with unwanted doubts. Usually, these revolve around a fear of causing harm to someone. For example when a person is driving, they might suddenly develop frightening thoughts of having run someone over. The sensation takes control, and the affected might feel forced to stop and check before being able to continue.
On the contrary, a person might develop aggressive, disturbing thoughts about harming someone. The affected could also have “taboo” ideas in their mind. These could include indecent intimate relations or sinful thoughts regarding religion. (9)
A person with OCD might have urges or concerns about objects or items that are not in a specific order. They may get flooded with anxiety if things are not in a well-formed system. (10)
Compulsions are generally responses to an obsessive thought. It is usually a repetitive action that the affected feels an urge to act out to lessen the anxiety from the obsession. (11)
The action typically never cures the obsession, and may only bring short-term relief. The sufferer might spend a long time dealing with these thoughts and compulsions.
The affected might have developed an obsessive ritual that must be done before going to bed. This could involve something like turning off the lights a specific number of times. This thought turns into anxiety and increases the compulsive urge if ignored. It might recur several times before the sufferer can sleep. (12)
Another symptom could be if the affected comes in contact with germs. The obsession takes over and generates a compulsion to wash the hands excessively. (13)
Slight inconsistency in arranged items could trigger anxiety or make it worse, so the person often feels obliged to rearrange them. This could again be if the number of items is uneven, or does not align with a lucky number. (14)
Some may develop an obsession with numbers. The person might feel anxious if they don’t count items before continuing with a task. (15)
It could be that the sufferer must count every line in a paragraph, or follow a lucky number.
Not everyone with OCD will encounter this symptom. However, those who do may exhibit quick, jerky movements of muscles usually in the face and shoulders. Some might also develop vocal tics, such as constant throat clearing or sniffing. (16)
OCD can be classified into five dimensions (types) of thought and behavior. These are usually very time-consuming and may have a significant impact on life even with treatment. (17, 18)
The patient might have obsessive thoughts about outcomes which could occur if something isn’t checked. These thoughts lead to aggressive fears and compulsions to investigate and prevent possible damage or harm.
The patient may develop an obsessive fear that if germs contracted outside are brought back home, they may kill anyone nearby. This fear can lead to excessive cleaning.
This could also refer to mental contamination. The affected is likely to feel infected after being verbally abused or receiving harsh criticism for example.
It is very likely that the patient has established a “bond” with a number. The affected might feel an urge to count everything and arrange items according to this number. Fear and anxiety may be triggered if this ritual isn’t followed.
Hoarding is when a person collects and stores useless items. Experts consider this to be a subtype of OCD if the patient exhibits obsessive hoarding.
The patient is likely to express concerns about inappropriate thoughts of a sexual or religious nature.
It might be that the person has a fear that he/she may want to develop an improper relationship with a family member. It could also be a fear of committing a sin which would never be forgiven.
Treatment will depend on the individual. OCD can usually be treated with therapy and medications. However, some people might not respond and may continue to encounter symptoms. (19)
Psychotherapy may be a very effective way of treating OCD in both adults and children. Different therapies might be applied depending on the person. (20)
These will generally focus on helping the patient deal with the compulsions and obsessions. For example by trying to resist the urge to wash hands or counting sentences.
One therapy which has proven relatively successful is exposure and ritual prevention (EX/RP). This involves exposing the patient to a trigger and helping them confront it without needing the ritual. (21)
Medical treatment of OCD generally involves different types of medicines such as antidepressants and antipsychotics.
Antidepressants such as clomipramine are usually used to reduce symptoms. Antipsychotics may be necessary in cases where other medicines won’t work. This may include a drug like risperidone which may also minimize motor tic symptoms. (22, 23)
What is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? OCD is considered a mental health disorder which causes unwanted urges and obsessions.
What are the signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? People affected may exhibit fear of germs, concerns about inappropriate thoughts, excessive cleaning and compulsive counting. Those affected may believe that something terrible will occur if these thoughts or urges are ignored.
How do you develop obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? Various factors may influence OCD. Some people may have a specific gene or impairment in brain structure. Experts also believe abuse and trauma could contribute as well as certain personality traits. (24)
How are you diagnosed for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? Doctors generally begin with ruling out other conditions, such as anxiety disorders, which might have caused the symptoms. They ask questions concerning the symptoms and how the patient feels. For a positive diagnosis, indicators of obsessive and compulsive behavior should recur several times a week. (25)
What is the best treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? Treatment may involve psychotherapy and medications. It varies based on the person and the extent of the disorder. Some people might be able to reduce their symptoms with therapy.
What are the long term complications of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? Complications will depend on the type of OCD. Some people might suffer from depression, or develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol. (26)
Is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) considered a disability? Even though OCD is a mental health disorder, those affected are generally not considered mentally disabled. However, it does have significant effect on life.
Is there any cure for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? OCD is considered to be a chronic disorder. Although its symptoms can be managed, they can’t be cured. (27)
Is obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) life threatening? The disorder in itself is not fatal. However, a person with OCD can develop thoughts of suicide and might feel a compulsion to attempt it. (28)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a serious mental health disease which causes anxiety related symptoms.
Those affected will often show anxious behavior toward things which other people might perceive as “normal.” People with OCD usually have unwanted thoughts which trigger a compulsive response.
It can be a difficult disorder for the affected. They usually have a higher chance of developing depression and may feel shame and guilt. However, treatment is available and even though these can’t cure OCD, they can help manage the symptoms.