Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, can be defined as an illness that causes the urge to do something repeatedly or have unwanted sensations or thoughts. There are many types of OCD, but most cases fall in the main four general categories – checking, contamination, symmetry, and intrusive thoughts.
What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a disorder where a person has recurring sensations, thoughts, or ideas (obsessions) that make him/her feel compelled to do something over and over again (compulsions). Repetitive behavior such as cleaning, checking on things, or washing hands can interfere with the person’s social interactions or daily chores.
OCD is not like a bad habit like biting nails or thinking negative thoughts. An obsessive thought could be that some colors, numbers, or alphabets are good or bad. A compulsive behavior could be to wash hands ten times after touching a dirty surface or object. Although the person may not like or want to do these things, he/she may feel powerless to stop doing them.
You may have thoughts or habits that you repeat sometimes. But if you develop OCD, the habits and thoughts will change. You will have thoughts or actions beyond your control, which will take up a huge amount of time of your day, or interfere with your daily routine.
Many people suffering from OCD suspect or know their obsessions are false, whereas others may think they are true. Even when people know their obsessions are false, they find it difficult to stop the compulsive behavior or keep their minds off the obsessions.
What are the Different Types of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Some of the most common types of OCD are:
The constant need to check and recheck things is the compulsion, where trying to prevent harm or damage is the obsessive fear. Some of the common examples of checking are:
- Re-reading texts
- Sexual arousal
Being contaminated or dirty by touching something is an obsessive worry. The feeling that the contamination may cause harm to one’s self is often the fear. The common examples of contamination are:
- Door handles
- Public washrooms
- Brushing teeth
- Shaking hands
- Eating in a public place
Rumination is a prolonged thought about a question or theme which may be unproductive or undirected. The thoughts are not objectionable and are indulged rather than resisted. Most ruminations are on topics such as philosophy, religion, or metaphysical like the afterlife, the origin of the universe, or the nature of mortality.
An example of a rumination is “what happens to a person after death?”. A person with OCD may weigh the different possibilities, visualize images of heaven or hell, and think about what scientists and philosophers have said about death.
- Symmetry and Orderliness
The need to keep things in asymmetry or a particular order is the compulsion. To ensure everything is maintained, the ‘right way’ to prevent discomfort or harm to others is the obsessive fear. Some common examples include:
- Spotless without blemishes
- Intrusive Thoughts
Obsessional thoughts that are disturbing, harmful, repetitive, and often horrific are called intrusive thoughts. For example, thoughts of causing violent or sexual harm to a loved one. Some of the common types of intrusive thoughts include:
- Sexual intrusive thoughts
- Religious intrusive thoughts
- Relationship intrusive thoughts
- Violent intrusive thoughts
What are the Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
In most cases of OCD, people develop both obsessions and compulsions. However, there are some people who either develop only obsessions or only compulsions.
The symptoms of obsessions include:
- Intense stress when things are not in a particular order
- Fear of being contaminated by touching objects or surfaces other people have touched
- Unpleasant sexual images in the head
- Doubts about turning off the stove or locking the door
- Images of driving the car into a group of people
- Avoidance of situations that may trigger obsessions such as shaking hands
- Thoughts about behaving inappropriately in public
The symptoms of compulsions include:
- Checking doors or windows multiple times to ensure they are locked properly
- Washing hands until the skin becomes raw
- Counting in a certain pattern
- Checking repeatedly if the stove is turned off
- Arranging objects in a certain pattern
- Silently repeating a word, phrase, or prayer
If you or someone you know has these symptoms, immediately seek medical assistance. Getting an early diagnosis and treatment may help the OCD from worsening or affecting the daily activities.
When Should You Visit a Doctor?
If you notice the symptoms mentioned above starting to interfere with your daily life, visit a doctor or mental health professional.
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What Causes Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
The exact causes of OCD are not known yet. The following could be the causes:
OCD may have a genetic component. But the specific genes that cause OCD have not been identified yet.
The changes in brain function or the body’s natural chemistry may cause OCD.
What are the Risk Factors of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Factors that may increase your risk of developing OCD are:
- Stressful life events
Stressful or traumatic life events may increase your risk of developing OCD. These events may trigger emotional distress or intrusive thoughts.
- Family history
Having OCD in the family may increase your risk of developing it.
- Mental health disorders
If you have other mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety disorder, or substance, you may be at an increased risk of developing OCD.
How Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Diagnosed?
To diagnose OCD, the doctor may do a psychological evaluation. It will include discussing your feelings, thoughts, and behavior pattern. The evaluation will help the doctor understand whether there are obsessive or compulsive behaviors that may be interfering with your life. The doctor may also speak with your close friends and family with your permission.
The doctor may also do a physical exam. It will help rule out other problems that could be contributing to your symptoms.
Is There Any Treatment Available for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
The treatment available may not cure OCD, but it can help keep the symptoms under control. Depending on the symptoms and severity of OCD, some people may need long-term and more intensive treatment.
The treatment options include:
To help change your thinking patterns, the doctor may prescribe cognitive behavioral therapy. The doctor will put you in situations that will set off compulsions or create anxiety. It will be done in a form called exposure and response prevention. With this, you will learn how to control your OCD thoughts or actions.
Medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors may help keep obsessions and compulsions under control. The medications include fluoxetine, citalopram, paroxetine, escitalopram, fluvoxamine, and sertraline. They may take up to two to four months to start working.
If these medications do not help control the symptoms, the doctor may prescribe antipsychotic drugs such as risperidone and aripiprazole.
In rare cases where medications and therapy do not work, the doctor may prescribe neuromodulation. This treatment involves using devices that change the electrical activity of a part of your brain. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is one such type of device that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells.
What Complications can arise if Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is Left Untreated?
If left untreated, OCD may cause the following complications:
- Troubled relationships
- Suicidal thoughts and behavior
- Difficulty attending school, college, or work
- Health problems due to frequent hand washing
- Overall poor quality of life
Can Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder be Prevented?
There is no sure way that can help you prevent OCD. However, getting an early diagnosis and treatment may help it from worsening and disrupting daily routine.
OCD is a mental disorder that causes obsessive and compulsive fears or behaviors. As there is no cure for it yet, an early diagnosis and treatment can help relieve some of the symptoms that could be interfering with everyday life.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. How do you know it’s OCD?
Obsessive thoughts, impulses, or compulsions that are difficult to suppress are some of the characteristics of OCD. These may take a considerable amount of time in your daily routine.
2. Can OCD go away on its own?
OCD is a chronic disorder that means it cannot go away on its own. Treatment is necessary, and in most cases, it is not cured completely.
3. What happens if OCD is left untreated?
If left untreated, OCD can worsen to the point where the person may develop physical problems, experience suicidal thoughts, or become unable to function.
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