Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

1 What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by obsessions or unreasonable fears and thought, leading you to do compulsions or repetitive behaviors.

OCD can be only obsessions or compulsions alone. People with OCD may or may not comprehend that they are having unreasonable obsessions. Sometimes, if you are aware of the compulsive actions, you may consider ignoring or stopping them, only to increase the level of your anxiety. In the end, you will still feel the urge to continue doing the compulsive acts in order to ease or minimize stress and anxiety.

OCD usually revolves around themes. For instance, if your fear is being contaminated by germs, you may feel the compulsion to wash your hands very often, even if your hands are becoming chapped and sore for doing it repetitively.

2 Symptoms

Generally, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder have both obsessive and compulsive symptoms. However, it is possible that a person has either obsession symptoms only or compulsion symptoms only.

Obsession symptoms include repeated, persistent, and most of the time unwanted urges that cause anxiety and distress. These obsessions or fears usually appear when you are thinking of doing something.

Obsessions include:

  • fear of dirt or germ contamination,
  • aggressive thoughts of hurting yourself or others,
  • obsession of having things to be organized or always in order. 

Compulsion symptoms, on the other hand, are behaviors that you want to do repetitively. Like obsessions, compulsions often come in themes.

For instance, you:

  • wash and clean repetitively,
  • counting and re-counting,
  • checking doors multiple times to make sure they are locked,
  • Checking anything that has a switch to make sure they are off,
  • counting in patterns.

Even silently repeating a prayer, phrase, or word can mean you are compulsive.

OCD symptom usually start progressively and may vary in severity. Typically, the symptoms become worse with stress. Considered as a life-long condition, OCD can affect someone severely that it can become disabling. Some adults may recognize that their fears, obsessions, and compulsions are senseless, however, for most children, OCD is often misunderstood. Having OCD and being a perfectionist are two different things. With OCD, the excessive worries usually have no basis. You may like your floors clean or your books arranged, but that doesn’t mean you have OCD. It is a disorder that is difficult to diagnose. If you think your obsession and/or compulsion are having a negative impact to your life, see your doctor immediately.

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3 Causes

The exact cause of obsessive-compulsive disorder is not yet determined. However, a number of studies have concluded these theories:

Biology. OCD may be caused by the natural chemistry of the brain or body. The disorder may also be caused by specific genes, although it is yet to be found out.

Environment. OCD is believed to be triggered by certain environmental factors like diseases and infections.

4 Making a Diagnosis

To make a complete and reliable diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder, your doctor may refer you to a mental health specialist, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. To make diagnosis easier and less stressful, you may want to write down important details that could help with the evaluation. 

  • Write down your symptoms
  • List down any life changes or stresses that happened recently
  • Make a list of all your medications, vitamins, and supplements

Also, your doctor may ask a few things about you and your symptoms. Make sure to answer the questions with complete honesty. Being honest and precise with your doctor help ensure a correct diagnosis. 

OCD diagnosis may also involve a physical exam, quite a few lab tests, and a psychological evaluation. Your doctor will be able to tell if you have OCD if you meet a certain criteria set by the American Psychiatric Association : the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM. This manual is followed by mental health specialists in diagnosing mental illnesses.

5 Treatment

Treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive disorder may not totally cure it, however, the available treatments can help control the symptoms.

OCD treatments are grouped into 2 categories:

  • psychotherapy, 
  • medications.

Using both makes the treatment more effective.

Psychotherapy

Typically involves ERP or Exposure and Response Prevention, which is considered as one of the most effective OCD treatment. With this approach, the patient is exposed to an obsession in order to learn ways to cope with the anxiety without resorting to compulsion. You will need to give a lot of effort in this technique, but over time, you may have a normal life once you learn how to cope with your obsessions and compulsions.

Medications

To help control the symptoms of OCD, several psychiatric medications are prescribed. These may include antidepressants, such as

  • Clomipramine,
  • Fluvoxamine,
  • Fluoxetine,
  • Paroxetine,
  • Sertraline.

At times, the doctor may prescribe drug combinations. Keep in mind to follow the doctor’s orders about your medications and never stop taking them abruptly.

6 Prevention

You cannot prevent obsessive-compulsive disorder from occurring. But once diagnosed with it, seeking for treatment immediately is the best way to manage the symptoms and prevent the disorder from getting worse.

7 Lifestyle And Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Considered as a chronic condition, obsessive-compulsive disorder may always be a part of your life.

OCD cannot be treated, but there are ways to keep the symptoms manageable:

  • Make sure to take your medications as prescribed. Skipping a dose, cutting down or increasing the dosage, or stopping the medications abruptly can make the symptoms worse, or even promote other complications like withdrawal symptoms.
  • You also have to keep an eye open for any warning signs. You may know now what’s triggering your symptoms, so draw a plan on how to keep the symptoms from manifesting. 
  • A support group might be a great help. Join a support group for people with OCD and reach out to other people with similar issues.  Doing this does not only provide the support you need, but also helps you to stay focused on the treatment goals.
  • If you are attending school or working, do your best to stay on track. Don’t let the disorder affect your everyday life and plans.

8 Risks And Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Your risk of having obsessive-compulsive disorder is increased if your family have a history of ODC. The risk also heightens if you are experiencing stressful life events.

Complications of having OCD may include:

  • Troubled relationships
  • Inability to attend school or work
  • Disinterest in attending social gatherings
  • Eating disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Contact dermatitis due to frequent handwashing
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