Can you not stand to be in a public bathroom because of the fear of germ contamination? Do you repeatedly check to see if a door is locked or if the oven was turned off? Or do you regularly arrange things in perfect order then get anxious if something is out of place? If any of those scenarios sound familiar, then it’s possible that you may have obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Those are a few good indicators that you may have the disorder, and later in this post, I’ll share some of the tell-tale signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, first, let’s take a look at what obsessive-compulsive disorder is.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common anxiety disorder. Specifically, it involves recurring, unwanted thoughts, images, or urges that intrude into a person’s mind and cause a great deal of anxiety or discomfort. These thoughts also drive the person to do things repetitively (examples include repeatedly washing one’s hands or checking on things). According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over two million adults in the U.S. are affected by OCD.
Most people have obsessive or compulsive behaviors and thoughts at some point in their lives. However, for people with OCD, the cycle of obsessions and compulsions becomes so extreme that it consumes a lot of time and interferes with the important aspects of their life such as work, school, and personal relationships. They fear that thinking something terrible is as bad as doing it. They may even believe that their intrusive thoughts mean that they are bad, defective, or out of control. But there are many ways for people with OCD to prevent themselves from responding to their obsessions and manage their symptoms. We will discuss that a little more during the symptoms section of this post.
Signs and Symptoms of OCD
Just because you have compulsive and obsessive thoughts doesn’t mean that you have OCD. People with OCD may have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both but it manifests in a way that it causes tremendous distress and anxiety. Obsessions are repeated and intrusive thoughts, urges, or mental images that come frequently and trigger extreme anxiety that gets in the way of day-to-day functioning.
Here are some of the common obsessive thoughts related to OCD:
- Fear of being contaminated by germs or dirt
- Religious obsessions and excessive concern with morality
- Fear of acting on an impulse to harm oneself and/or others
- Concern of having things symmetrical or in a perfect order
- Fear of being responsible for something terrible that happens such as fires or accidents
The second part of OCD is the compulsive part. These are repetitive behaviors that a person uses with the intention of making their obsessions go away. Although compulsions are just temporary solutions to obsessions, it brings short-term relief and serves as a temporary escape.
Some of the common OCD compulsions:
- Excessive cleaning and hand washing
- Arranging things in a particular way or order
- Excessive double-checking of things, such as locks or appliances
- Checking that you did not harm yourself or others
- Repeating body movements such as tapping and touching
- Checking that nothing terrible happened
- Compulsive counting
Causes of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
The causes of OCD are not fully understood, however, there are several theories about its causes. Some mental health researchers have encouraged us to think about brain scans and similar research as an indicator that OCD is linked to a genetic or biological cause. So it may be a result of changes in a person’s natural, chemical and functional abnormalities or brain functions. It could also be hereditary. Genetic studies indicate some tendency towards anxiety that runs in families, although the probability is small. Family studies have shown that people with first-degree relatives, such as parents or siblings, who have OCD are at a higher risk of developing OCD themselves.
There are also some environmental factors, such as infections, that researchers suggest may be a trigger for OCD. However, further studies still need to be done to prove whether or not that is the case.
Medication and Treatment for OCD
OCD is typically treated with medication, psychotherapy or a combination of both. It depends on the therapist or psychiatrist to decide what is the best treatment for a person. Certain psychiatric medications can help control the obsessions and compulsions of OCD. Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to help reduce OCD symptoms.
Antidepressants approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat OCD include:
However, it’s important to discuss the possible side effects of these medications with your doctor so that you don’t have complications.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy, a type of psychotherapy, is effective for many people. It involves testing the client’s awful beliefs about their obsessions. If the person can manage to reduce their compulsions, accept the urges, and engage in pleasurable and productive activity, the anxiety that is associated with their OCD and the degree of belief in their obsessions will reduce. Other types of therapy may take place in individual, family, or group sessions.
If you or someone that you know is suffering from OCD, contact Dr. Mark Herbst, a psychiatrist in the Los Angeles area. He runs a mental health clinic and specializes in providing mental health evaluations and treatments to individuals who may be struggling with OCD.