Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder characterized by obsessive, unreasonable thoughts, and repetitive, compulsive behaviors. The recurring thoughts and fears, called obsessions, leads to the need to repetitively perform certain actions, called compulsions, that would help in getting over distressing thoughts. Compulsions help the person to have temporary relief from anxiety only to recur later when obsessions start all over again. Thus, it forms a repetitive cycle that may affect the day-to-day activities of the person who has this condition. Compulsive behaviors and actions may take up hours of the day. People with this disorder are aware of the unrealistic nature of their thoughts and behaviors, but are not able to do away with them because of the stressful thoughts and fears.
Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are the two most profound symptoms of the disorder, which may even manifest in different ways.
Obsessions may be seen as:
- Keeping things organized
- Fear of dirt
- Fear of hurting others
- Fear of being embarrassed in front of others
- Excessive doubt
- Fear of losing or making mistakes
Compulsive behaviors may be:
- Washing hands or bathing repeatedly
- Checking and rechecking things, like the stove or locks
- Repeatedly arranging things in a certain way
- Eating foods in a particular order
- Repeatedly using certain words and phrases
- Collecting and hoarding unwanted items
- Counting in certain patterns
The symptoms may begin gradually and may increase or decrease in severity over time. Stress is found to increase the intensity of symptoms in most people. The actual cause of the disorder is still unknown. Biological factors and environmental factors are reported to increase the chances of developing this disorder.
Some of the biological factors that increase the risk of OCD include:
- Serotonin imbalance
- Family history
- Certain infections like Streptococcus
Environmental factors that may lead to OCD include:
- Death of a loved one
- Change in living situation
- Troubled relationships
- Chronic illnesses
A combination of medications, along with behavioral therapy, is the most popular recommendation for treating OCD. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps to relieve anxiety by training the patient to accept and confront his or her fears. It is also helpful in bringing down the exaggerated thinking in these people. Antidepressants are often recommended for people with OCD. If the person does not respond to behavioral therapy or medicines, electroconvulsive therapy is used. In this therapy, a series of electric shocks are used to cause seizures that may help in releasing neurotransmitters from the brain.