Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Definition

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has two components – an obsessive thought and a compulsive behavior. Typically, the compulsive behavior is presented to get rid of these obsessive thoughts. Affected individuals repeatedly perform a set of erratic activities that obviously does not appear unusual or irrational to the individual. There is unexplained urge to perform those acts repeatedly. It usually involves otherwise normal daily tasks like washing the hands or checking if a door is locked. Typically, these impulsive thoughts and compulsive acts are difficult to resist. Ignoring these urges may leave the person feeling distressed and interfere with their routine activities. However, with treatment and counseling,  the person could control these behaviors and lead a healthy life.

Symptoms

The affected individual may become obsessed with thoughts that are common or otherwise uncommon and even unusual.

  • Keeping things orderly, neat and clean
  • Fear of losing temper; becoming anxious or aggressive
  • Fear of making mistakes
  • Sexual fascinations and fantasies

Compulsive behavior usually occurs due to an irresistible urge to perform a set of activity repeatedly like :

  • Counting or numbering.
  • Washing and cleaning.
  • Asking assurance repeatedly.

Affected individuals with obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) may exhibit :

  • Doubts or confusion regarding any work done.
  • Stress on seeing disoriented things.
  • Avoiding particular situations or people.
  • Skin rashes due to excessive hand washing

Based on the signs presented OCD patients are classified as washers, doubters, counters or hoarders. However, this does not apply to every person with an obsessive compulsive disorder. Symptoms are often progressive and may worsen at times of stress. The disorder is considered severe when the person indulges in these compulsions for most of the day and loses time for daily activities including work, study and interpersonal relationships.

Causes

Obsessive compulsive disorder is in most cases a lifelong mental health condition. Both genetic predisposition and environmental factors determine the presentation of the disorder. Although specific genes are yet to be identified, the condition tends to run in families. Frequent exposures to stress often hastens the onset of OCD or make it worse.

Brain cells use serotonin as a chemical messenger for communication. Obsessive compulsive patients tend to present less-severe symptoms if given medication to increase the serotonin levels. This has led to the hypothesis that obsessive compulsive disorder is linked to serotonin levels. However, it may be triggered by specific events in life such as death, often where there is a history of anxiety and/or depression.

Treatment

The primary treatment aims at controlling the urges that compels a person to act in a certain way or focus entirely on specific issues. Psychotherapy is the most prompt strategy that works by:

  • Refraining from pursuing the impulses.
  • Exposure to the object of the obsessions and learning to control the impulses.
  • Finding an alternate way to combat the urges.

Anti-depressants that increase serotonin level are also prescribed for OCD. However, the effectiveness of medications may vary from person to person depending on the severity of the disease. In some severe cases when therapy and medications prove ineffective, certain extreme measures have to be taken that includes:

  • Mental hospitalization and rehabilitation
  • Electroconvulsive shocks

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