What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which people experience recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that create an urge or drive to do something repetitively (compulsions). The repetitive behaviors significantly interfere with their daily activities and social interactions. Although some people have focused thoughts and repeated behaviors, they do not disrupt their daily life.
However, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder experience rigid and persistent thoughts and unwanted behaviors cause great distress when left undone. Most patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder either know or suspect their obsessions and compulsions to be untrue or unrealistic. However, they find it hard focusing on something else or stopping the compulsive actions.
Obsessions and Compulsions
Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses or images that cause distressing emotions such as anxiety. Common obsessions include the need for exactness or symmetry, excessive concerns about harm or contamination, or forbidden religious or sexual thoughts. On the other hand, compulsions are repetitive behaviors a person feels driven or compelled to do in response to an obsession.
These behaviors are aimed at reducing or preventing distress. Compulsive behaviors include repetitive cleaning for fear of contamination, repeatedly uttering a name of phrase, checking something repeatedly for fear of harming oneself or others, and ordering or rearranging items to reduce discomfort.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Symptoms
It’s worth noting that having an obsession about something doesn’t necessarily mean you have obsessive-compulsive disorder. Most people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, but some experience either one of the two.
Common obsessive thoughts in obsessive-compulsive disorder include:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or contaminating others
- Fear of losing control and harming oneself or others
- Excessive focus on moral or religious values
- Intrusive sexually explicit or violent thoughts
- Excessive attention to something considered lucky or unlucky (superstitions)
- Excessive attention to orderliness and symmetry
- Fear of losing or not having things you need
Common compulsive thoughts in obsessive-compulsive disorder include:
- Excessive double-checking of things to make sure they are the way they should be
- Repeatedly checking on loved ones to make sure they are safe
- Praying excessively or engaging in rituals as a result of religious fear
- Counting, tapping or uttering specific words or phrases to reduce anxiety
- Spending too much time cleaning or washing
- Ordering and arranging things to reduce discomfort
- Accumulating junk such as empty food containers or newspapers
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Causes
Based on the latest studies, obsessive-compulsive disorder has a biological basis. The condition is no longer linked to family issues or attitudes learned during one’s childhood. Instead, the latest and current studies focus on the interaction between biological and environmental factors.
Research suggests that OCD involves communication breakdown between different parts of the brain. The breakdown can be as a result of insufficient levels of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals are responsible with the transmission of signals from one neuron to the next across the synapses.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Risk Factors
Factors that may increase the risk of suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder include:
- Family History: Having parents or family members with OCD can increase the risk of developing the condition.
- Traumatic Life Events: Those who have experienced traumatic events are at a higher risk of developing obsessive-compulsive disorder. Such traumatic events can trigger intrusive thoughts, emotional distress and obsessive rituals associated with OCD.
- Related Mental Disorders: OCD may be related to other mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety disorders, tic disorders and substance abuse.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Treatments
Treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder may or may not result in a cure. However, the available treatment options help bring the symptoms under control. The two main treatments for OCD are psychotherapy and medications. The combination of the two often yields better results.
Most people with obsessive-compulsive disorder respond well to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a type of psychotherapy. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) is a type of CBT therapy that involves gradual exposure of the patient to a feared object or obsession, and helping them learn healthy ways to cope with their anxiety.
Doctors can also administer psychiatric medications to help control the obsessions and compulsions. The most commonly are antidepressants. Antidepressants approved by Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder include:
- Clomipramine (Anafranil) for children 10 years and older and adults.
- Fluvoxamine for children 8 years older and adults.
- Fluoxetine (Prozac) for children 7 years and older and adults.
- Sertraline (Zoloft) for children 6 years and older and adults.
- Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva) for adults only.
Some cases may require prescription of other antidepressants and psychiatric medications.