Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness that causes repeated unwanted thoughts or sensations (obsessions) or the urge to do something over and over again (compulsions). It is possible to have both obsessions and compulsions. Everyone has habits or thoughts that they sometimes repeat, but for people with OCD, these thoughts and actions take up at least an hour a day, are beyond your control, aren’t enjoyable and they interfere with your life. Here are the symptoms, causes and ways that OCD is treated.
Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent, unwanted thoughts, urges or images that are intrusive and cause distress or anxiety. You may try to ignore or get rid of them by performing a compulsive behaviour or ritual.
OCD obsession themes include:
- Fear of contamination or dirt e.g., fear of being contaminated by touching objects others have touched.
- Doubting and having difficulty tolerating uncertainty e.g., doubts that you’ve locked the door or turned off the stove.
- Needing things orderly and symmetrical e.g., intense stress when objects aren’t orderly or facing a certain way.
- Aggressive or horrific thoughts about losing control and harming yourself or others e.g., thoughts about shouting obscenities or acting inappropriately in public or driving into a crowd of people.
- Unwanted thoughts, including aggression, or sexual or religious subjects e.g., unpleasant sexual images.
OCD compulsions are repetitive behaviours that you feel driven to perform in order to reduce anxiety related to your obsessions or prevent something bad from happening.
OCD compulsion themes
- Washing and cleaning e.g., handwashing until your skin becomes raw.
- Checking e.g., checking doors repeatedly to make sure they’re locked.
- Counting e.g., counting in certain patterns.
- Orderliness e.g., silently repeating a prayer, word or phrase.
- Following a strict routine e.g., arranging your canned goods to face the same way.
- Demanding reassurance.
Causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder
The causes of OCD are as yet not fully understood but some factors are believed to contribute to it including:
Genetic disposition with research showing that 25% of people with OCD have an immediate family member who has the same disorder. Studies with twins confirm the genetic influence of the illness.
- Environmental factors such as traumatic brain injuries
- Severe trauma
- Childhood physical or sexual abuse
- Depression, anxiety, or tics
- Physical differences in certain parts of your brain
In the same way, there is no definitive cause of OCD, there is no cure for OCD, however, there are ways of managing the symptoms.
Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioural therapy can help you change your thinking patterns. One form of it involves the doctor exposing you to a situation designed to cause anxiety and set off compulsions. With each exposure, you learn to lessen and then stop your OCD thoughts or actions.
Relaxation: things like mediation, yoga, and massage can help with stressful OCD symptoms.
Medication: Psychiatric drugs can help people control obsessions and compulsions.
Neuromodulation: In rare cases where therapy and medication aren’t making enough of a difference, your doctor may recommend devices that change the electrical activity in a specific area of your brain.
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