Obsessive-compulsive disorder (O.C.D.)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (O.C.D.)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) affects more than 2 million adults a year in the U.S. In males, the disorder surfaces most often during childhood while it surfaces in women predominantly in their 20s. Along with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder, it’s considered one of the five types of anxiety disorders.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by obsessions and compulsions. These two characteristics of the disorder may be tied to each other — or they may simply act independently.
Obsessions are thoughts that play themselves on a loop, over and over. For people who suffer from OCD, these are more than just your typical ruminations. Some patients may even have obsessive thoughts of death, suicide, or harming others. Suppressing these thoughts can generally lead to more obsessive thoughts.
Oftentimes, obsessive thoughts take over the mind and reduce one’s ability to work, participate in activities they enjoy, or interact with others.
Compulsions are repetitive actions that someone with OCD feels compelled to perform. Many of these actions are small or simple; some may be characterized as ‘ticks’. Sometimes these actions are ritualistic and a patient may believe that by not performing them to completion, they will cause catastrophic events.
Symptoms of Obsessions
While obsessions manifest differently in everyone, many patients report similar symptoms, including:
- Worrying about future events over and over
- Visualizing bad things happening
- Fear of germs
- Worrying about bad things happening to loved ones
- Religious thoughts
- Worrying about hurting themselves or someone else
- Obsessing over symmetry, superstitions, or symbols
Symptoms of Compulsive Behaviors
While obsessions are thoughts, compulsions are the actions those thoughts often manifest themselves within. Examples of compulsions include:
- Compulsive prayer or prayer-like activities
- Constant washing of hands
- Double-checking the stove, locked doors, for small items
- Ensuring items are arranged in their specific places
- Using symmetry in movements (step over a crack with one foot and then the other; take one right turn and then one left one)
In some children and adults, OCD may come and go. It often gets more pronounced during times of great stress or trauma and often eventually goes away on its own. Many doctors believe that it’s a coping mechanism to help people have some sort of control over their lives when they feel powerless.
Causes of OCD
With many mental disorders, doctors aren’t 100% certain what causes OCD. What they do know is that it’s passed down through generations, so patients may have learned these behaviors from their parents, or they’ve inherited it through their DNA; many researchers believe it could be a combination of the two.
There’s evidence to suggest that OCD may be the result of a lack of the chemical serotonin in the brain.
Types of OCD
Researchers have categorized obsessive and compulsive patterns and determined that there are four types of OCD:
Checking includes the constant ‘double-checking’ to make sure things are in their place. This can include checking to ensure doors are locked, the stove is off, and items aren’t lost.
Contamination is the fear of germs or uncleanliness.
Symmetry is when a person orders items symmetrically or places them (almost ritualistically) in a certain area of the home, office, or space.
Ruminations, ritualistic, and religious thoughts are repetitive thoughts that take over a patient’s mind; these are often ritualistic or religious. Sometimes they’re categorized as taboo, off-limits, or bad by the patient.
OCD Underlying Conditions
Many people who suffer from OCD also suffer from other mental disorders. These disorders may be linked to obsessive and/or compulsive behaviors — or they may manifest themselves totally independently. The most common underlying conditions of OCD include:
- Asperger's syndrome
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Eating disorders
- Major depressive disorder
- Social anxiety disorder
- Tourette syndrome
Luckily, there are plenty of treatments available to patients suffering from OCD. Some of the most common treatments include therapy and medication, including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Exposure therapy
- OCD medication
Cognitive Based Therapy
Cognitive based therapy (CBT) is a form of mindfulness therapy that helps patients understand they’re obsessive thoughts and fears are unfounded. Therapists ask patients to rationalize their fears and question the legitimacy of their worries. A clinical therapist may also try to help the patient pinpoint the basis of such fears.
Exposure therapy encourages patients to ‘test out’ their suspicions. For example, a therapist might ask a patient to see what happens if he doesn’t wash his hands a certain number of times or rearrange items so they’re ‘just so’. Many therapists will start by asking patients to imagine or mentally walk through the motions of resisting these urges before doing them in real life.
Medications for OCD
Many OCD patients find they suffer from a chemical imbalance in addition to behavioral challenges. For these patients, a psychologist may recommend an appointment with a psychiatrist to determine if medication will help.
Many doctors prescribe an antidepressant to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. Some of the most common OCD medications include:
- Fluoxetine (generic Prozac)
- Paroxetine (generic Paxil or Pexeva)
- Sertraline (generic Zoloft)
- Citalopram (generic Celexa)
- Escitalopram (generic Lexapro)
Unfortunately, there’s a massive stigma surrounding mental health issues, such as OCD. Many OCD patients are depicted by the media as crazy or wildly unstable. Getting help from an online mental health professional can help ease some of that stigma and eliminate the fear of heading to a doctor’s office in-person.
If you suspect you’re suffering from OCD, we recommend contacting an online mental health professional. In most cases, you can be diagnosed via a consultation form, video, or phone chat. You can also contact an online psychiatrist to get a consultation for OCD, anti-anxiety, and depression medications. An online pharmacy can have your meds delivered right to your door.
OCD can affect your job, relationships, and overall outlook on life. Getting treated for this disorder sooner rather than later can help improve your quality of life and prevent further disorders from surfacing.