Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health disorder that shares many features with anxiety disorder. Depending on the severity of the OCD, this disorder has the capability of causing serious impairment in daily functioning. OCD is a chronic condition, so the treatment goals should focus on improving symptom management.
OCD involves two disordered psychological functions: disruptive obsessive thoughts and the resulting compulsive actions. Obsessive thoughts, which are rooted in irrational fear, doubt, or guilt, lead to immense stress and anxiety. The resulting compulsive behaviors become a means to reduce this stress.
The constant cycle of obsessions, followed by compulsive repetitive behaviors can have significant repercussions in a person’s life. Their career, relationships, and quality of life can be greatly impacted by OCD. The disorder can be so distressing that the individual withdraws socially, avoiding contact with others in hopes of avoiding any triggers that could reveal the disorder in public.
What is OCD?
OCD is an anxiety disorder that affects approximately 1.2% of U.S. adults. Women are more than three times as likely to suffer from the disorder than men, according to statistics provided by the National Institute of Mental Health.
The obsessive thoughts associated with OCD often cause the individual to engage in ritualistic behaviors that may cause further distress, including to those around them. These compulsions may appear to provide relief from the underlying anxiety by temporarily displacing it, but compulsive behavior can eventually become a source of anxiety on its own.
The specific cause or causes of OCD are not well understood by current research. A genetic component has been identified, as OCD does tend to run in families. Another related cause could be environmental, as when a child was exposed to these behaviors in the home and modeled them in adulthood. Trauma or a history of childhood abuse is another possible risk factor for developing OCD.
There has been some progress in better understanding OCD through neuroimaging studies. These brain scans reveal that certain areas of the brain function differently in those with OCD, as compared to those without the disorder. Generally, it is understood that OCD is primarily a neurobiological disorder that may be influenced by environmental factors.
Signs of OCD
A loved one may exhibit the common patterns seen in those with OCD. For example, they may be intensely focused on items being arranged in a certain way, such as in a symmetrical pattern. Any changes cause the individual to become highly stressed and upset, even angry.
Another example is when the individual exhibits an extreme fear of germs or contamination. They may go to great lengths to avoid any contact with germs, and often engage in compulsive hand-washing.
Here are some common signs of OCD:
- Fear of germs or contamination
- Aggressive thoughts or urges
- Worries about getting injured or loved ones being in harm’s way
- Being hyper aware of bodily functions
- A need to have things in perfect order, a need for symmetry
- Fixating on taboo subjects, often involving religious beliefs and sexuality
- Excessive cleaning, repetitive hand-washing
- Checking things repeatedly, such as whether the oven is turned off or the lights are switched off
- Compulsive counting
- Fear of touching doorknobs or handrails, fear of physical touch with others
- Arranging items in a precise way and not tolerating any variation from it
- Performing tasks in a particular order or number of times
OCD causes disruption in the individual’s ability to function normally on the job, in relationships, and in common daily activities, becoming an impediment to a normal, healthy life. Individualized OCD treatment plans, which include psychotherapy, exposure and response therapy, and medication, can help make a significant improvement in the patient’s quality of life.
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