Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a serious psychiatric condition and a type of anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions and/or compulsions. Obsessions are recurrent, intrusive and unreasonable thoughts that are typically unwanted and hard to get out of your head. These unwanted thoughts cause anxiety, that usually leads to compulsions or rituals, which are actions that might be performed to try to reduce the anxiety associated with the obsessions.
These thoughts and rituals can have a serious impact on an individual’s daily life. OCD affects around 2.5% of the adult population with both men and women equally affected. Typically, symptoms of OCD start in childhood or in the teen years.
Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD
OCD is an anxiety disorder that includes unwelcome thoughts and repetitive behaviour. Having to count the amount of steps that it takes to get from the front door to the car, or closing doors a certain amount of times before leaving the house or the office are characteristics of this condition.
Another subset of people with obsessive compulsive disorder have a tendency to be obsessed with getting rid of germs and dirt, which means that they may have to sanitize or wash their hands over and over several times during the day.
OCD sufferers feel as though something tragic will happen to them if they do not complete all of their rituals in the course of a day.
For instance, some patients feel that if they lose count of their steps when they are walking, a family member may be injured if they do not start counting their steps from the beginning.
Others think that something tragic will happen to them or that they will not be attractive or smart enough to handle social situations properly until they have fulfilled all of their rituals.
Obsessions are unwanted, repetitive and intrusive thoughts and/or images that the individual experiencing them, knows are excessive and unreasonable but have little or no control over.
Common obsessions in OCD sufferers include –
- Fears about Harming Others
- Dirt, Contamination and Illness
- Order and Exactness
- Sexual Identity
- Aggression and Violence
While some obsessive thoughts are of an aggressive or violent nature, it should be remembered that they are just thoughts and having them does not mean they will be acted upon.
Compulsions are something an OCD sufferer will do in order to reduce the stress and anxiety caused by a feeling that things are not right.
To try to get rid of the feeling, the individual needs to do something in order to ‘neutralize” the thoughts.
For instance, a common compulsion is checking, usually because they have obsessions that something is unsafe. They will perhaps check the stove to make sure that it is definitely switched off by turning it on and off, sometimes several times.
Compulsions make the person feel relieved for a short period but before they know it, the obsessions are creating more stress and anxiety, which in turn brings back the compulsions. They feel trapped in a never ending circle of obsession and compulsion.
As with obsessions, OCD sufferers have various types of compulsions such as –
- Mental Rituals
What Are The Causes of OCD
While the actual causes of OCD (and other mental disorders for that matter) are far from clear, research suggests it maybe a combination of environmental and genetic factors.
Several theories have been put forward as to the causes of OCD although none are scientifically proven.
- Compulsions could be a learned behaviour as they become habit-forming to provide short term relief from the anxiety caused by the obsessions.
- Biological factors such as genetic defects in the brain, chemical imbalances or faulty brain circuitry.
- Stressful or traumatic events in a person’s life.
- Traumatic brain injuries sustained in childhood or adolescence.
- Consequences of streptococcal infections such as strep throat or scarlet fever in childhood. This is known as Paediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections or PANDAS.
Treatment for OCD
There are currently two major forms of treatment for OCD. These are Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), which is a form of talk therapy, and medication, both of which can be very helpful to the illness.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can be brought on by a particularly traumatic experience, and can last for years, especially if it is not detected and treated properly.
In many cases, the negative thoughts can be associated with the dangerous or depressing event that has taken place in the life of the patient, so psychotherapy treatment may be effective in treating patients of all ages who are struggling with OCD.
Therapy may include getting the patient to uncover the reasons why they are dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and having them discuss how they feel each day when rituals are not performed.
Performing the various ‘habits’ will provide temporary relief from the anxiety or nervousness, but these methods have to be performed several times a day in order for patients to feel some sort of normalcy, which is why the disorder is so debilitating.
Currently, the main medication for OCD are Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRI’s. These can help to reduce the symptoms of obsessive compulsive anxiety disorder by increasing the levels of a chemical called serotonin in the brain. However, SSRI’s can take sometime to start working and do not always work with severe forms of OCD.
Ongoing clinical studies have shown that another medication, called Ketamine, that modulates glutamate in the brain, is a rapid treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms.