Published on Dec 28, 2018 and last reviewed on Jan 12, 2023 - 4 min read
OCD is a common illness, with varying severity. It is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Treatment includes therapy and medicines. If not treated in time, OCD may progress further and can lead to secondary depression.
Sometimes, it happens with that we feel our hands are dirty and not washed properly. So, we wash our hands twice over. At times, we have negative thoughts and keep thinking about it repeatedly, or we check the door lock or gas two to three times. But then, we forget about it later and move ahead.
For some people, however, this kind of thinking or behavior becomes chronic and long-lasting and often increases with time. They are then said to be suffering from an illness called obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
What is OCD?
It is a common but debilitating disorder. It has a widespread prevalence of two to three percent in the general population. Both males and females can suffer from this illness. In this condition, the person can have recurrent, absurd, irrational, uncontrollable, anxiety-provoking thoughts or images. It usually leads to a compulsive act and the anxiety related to thoughts and images settles with the compulsive acts.
For example, as mentioned, the person can have repeated thoughts of their hands being dirty (obsession). This can make them wash their hands repeatedly (compulsion). Otherwise, they will continue to feel anxious.
Thoughts and doubts that the door of the house is not locked properly can make them check it again and again.
Some people have a counting compulsion associated with illogical reasoning like if I do not count till 10 before doing a certain act, or if I would not do a certain act like reading 10 times, then something bad will happen to my family members.
What Are the Symptoms of OCD?
What Causes OCD?
Genetics, heredity, and stressful life events can precipitate OCD or worsen it.
In our brain, there are various chemicals which control our thoughts, mood, and behavior like serotonin. Alteration of this chemical is said to be responsible for alteration of thoughts and compulsive behavior.
Who Is at Risk for OCD?
It usually starts in adolescents and is commonly diagnosed during adulthood. Sometimes, it is also seen in children.
Having a blood relative with this condition increases the chance of developing this illness.
Stress in life not only increases the chances of developing OCD, but also worsens the preexisting illness.
How Does OCD Affect Life of Patients?
OCD causes impairment in the quality of life of the person and his family members. It impairs their ability to enjoy things in life.
Their academic, as well as professional life, suffers.
They end up wasting time in obsessions and compulsions, which create significant distress and irritability.
Inability to control one’s behavior and thoughts bring helplessness and hopelessness. Family members often do not understand the problem and create constant pressure on the person to control himself, which in fact, increases the stress and worsens the problem.
The person starts believing that it is his mistake or weakness that he cannot control his thoughts and behavior, and this can lead to depression.
How to Recognize the Signs?
A loved one may be suffering from OCD if:
Why Is Treatment Essential?
OCD is not a self-limiting condition. It usually progresses and worsens with time if not treated. Hence, the timely institution of treatment is very much essential.
Some people waste a significant amount of precious time from their career, future, and relationships and visit a psychiatrist very late as they assume the problem will settle with time but this does not happen eventually.
As the problem becomes chronic, it becomes resistant, and treatment takes time.
Treatment Of OCD
One can be started on either medicines/therapy or a combination of both.
Mild cases can be treated with exposure and response prevention therapy alone, while moderate to severe cases need to be managed with medicines as well as exposure and response prevention therapy.
How Can You Help a Family Member or Friend Who Has This Illness?
Support them by taking them to a mental health professional.
Do not force them to control themselves. Instead, you can try to understand their problem.
Accompany them or check if they are consulting their doctor regularly.
If they are on medicines, look for compliance.
OCD can be manifested in four different ways: contamination, doubt, arranging, and intrusive thoughts. An obsession that revolves around contamination and germs is the most common type of OCD.
OCD person will keep doubting and checking things. They require all things to be orderly and symmetrical. They may become aggressive and may think about harming others.
- Washing hands frequently and cleaning.
- Check for locked doors or if the gas is off.
- Arranging things in an orderly manner.
- Hoarding behavior.
- Repetitive thoughts in their head.
Stress or anxiety from a stressful incident, such as a car accident or starting a new business venture, could exacerbate OCD or worsen it. Pregnancy or post-partum depression can also cause OCD.
OCD management may not result in completely treating the disease. Still, it can alleviate the symptoms to help the affected individual lead a normal day-to-day life. Some people may require long-term intensive treatment for severe OCD symptoms.
The symptoms of OCD, including compulsions and obsessions, generally worsen in terms of extreme stress situations. OCD is a lifelong disorder with mild to severe symptoms and can become disabling if left untreated.
Doctors usually test for OCD by talking to the patient about his symptoms to determine his obsessive and compulsive behaviors. The doctor will then evaluate whether those thoughts and behaviors interfere with his day-to-day functioning.
OCD usually starts before the age of 25 and often in young childhood or adolescence. Studies show that the mean age of onset is earlier in males than in females.
If a person is suffering from OCD, he can definitely lead a normal and well-productive life. Successfully managing OCD symptoms requires consciously focusing on coping with day-to-day activities rather than an ultimate treatment.
The exact etiology of OCD is not completely known. The genetic pattern of OCD is not clear. However, the risk of acquiring this disorder is greater for first-degree family relatives of affected individuals. Therefore, genetics, brain dysfunction, and the surrounding environment are thought to play a key role in the development of the disease.
OCD fundamentally alters the brain, significantly reducing the grey matter density in a few areas. In severe cases of OCD, the brain can be damaged permanently, altering the brain activity.
Last reviewed at:
12 Jan 2023 - 4 min read
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