Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a neurobiological disorder that can be developed by adults and children of all races, ethnicities and backgrounds.

With approximately one in 40 adults and one in 100 children in the United States experiencing obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms, it is obviously quite a common problem. The disorder can have severe consequences for living a normal life, as it can affect various daily life activities.

If you suspect you have obsessive-compulsive disorder or you have a loved one who you think may have developed the disorder, then a doctor should be consulted as soon as possible. There is treatment available so the sooner you are diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the quicker you can get professional help. The following information will be very helpful for you to understand more about the disorder. It will also tell you about who is at a higher risk of developing it and the types of treatment available.

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is often abbreviated to O.C.D., is a common anxiety disorder. It is a chronic, long-lasting disorder where people have recurring and uncontrollable thoughts and behaviors that are repeated frequently. In this context, the uncontrollable thoughts are known as obsessions and the uncontrollable behaviors are known as compulsions. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder can have symptoms that are obsessive, compulsive or both.

The disorder affects all aspects of the sufferer’s life, such as personal relationships and work life. Common obsession symptoms include the following:

  • Having a fear of germs or contamination
  • Having aggressive thoughts towards yourself and others
  • Having taboo thoughts regarding harm, sex or religion
  • Needing things to be symmetrical or ordered perfectly

Common compulsion symptoms include the following:

  • Excessively cleaning
  • Excessively washing your hands
  • Compulsively counting
  • Checking things repeatedly, such as checking the front door is locked
  • Arranging and ordering things in a very precise manner

Not every ritual or habit is a compulsion although. After all, everybody double checks things at times. In fact, some common signs and symptoms of mental health issues are similar to typical behaviors. However, it is the severity of the symptoms that indicate if there is an issue. For instance, individuals with O.C.D. may be unable to control thoughts or behaviors, even when they are recognized as being excessive. Likewise, you may identify as having obsessive-compulsive disorder if you spend an hour or more a day on excessive thoughts and behaviors or you experience major problems in your daily life from those thoughts or behaviors. Additionally, you get no pleasure from performing daily rituals, although you may feel briefly relieved from the anxiety that the thoughts have caused.

Symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder may come and go. They might also ease or worsen over time. It is common for people with the disorder to avoid situations that could trigger their obsessive thoughts or behavior. Some people use alcohol or drugs in order to calm themselves. If obsessive-compulsive disorder is untreated, then it can interfere with all aspects of your life. Therefore, if you think you may have the disorder, then learn how to find mental health help for yourself like seeing a doctor to talk about your symptoms.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects both adults and children. Although onset can happen later in life, typically, people are diagnosed before 19 years of age. Boys tend to develop the disorder at an earlier age than girls.

What causes obsessive-compulsive disorder?

The causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder are unknown, although researchers think it has to do with brain circuits not functioning properly. Studies have shown people with obsessive-compulsive disorder have different subcortical structures and frontal cortexes of the brain. Although there seems to be a connection between the disorder and abnormalities in those parts of the brain, the actual connection is still unknown.

However, there are known risk factors for developing the disorder. First, it can be due to genetics. Studies have shown people with immediate family members who have obsessive-compulsive disorder are more prone to developing the disorder themselves. Secondly, the disorder can be related to your childhood environment. People who were abused during childhood either physically or sexually have a greater risk of developing obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other risk factors include being of a lower socioeconomic status, dealing with stressful life events, having another mental illness, using drugs, being unemployed and being unmarried.

How is obsessive-compulsive disorder treated?

Before obsessive-compulsive disorder can be treated, it needs to be diagnosed. If you think you may have obsessive-compulsive disorder, then you should talk to your doctor. The initial assessment will involve your doctor asking you about your symptoms. This may be done through an interview or a questionnaire. A psychological assessment may also be required.

The next step is to be tested for other psychiatric disorders, such as Tourette syndrome, generalized anxiety disorder and eating disorders. Getting tested for such things may seem quite scary at first but if obsessive-compulsive disorder is left untreated, then it can have severe consequences on your daily functioning. It is therefore much wiser to get diagnosed than to remain unseen by a medical professional. After you have been diagnosed, you can receive suitable treatment and move toward recovery and management.

There are two main ways of treating obsessive-compulsive disorder including psychotherapy and medication. Most people respond well to those treatments. However, some people do continue to have symptoms.

Psychotherapy is suitable for adults and children with obsessive-compulsive disorder. The types of therapy that can be highly effective include habit reversal training and cognitive behavior therapy. A specific type of cognitive behavior therapy, called Exposure and Response Prevention is also known to be a very effective treatment.

Medication can also be a successful treatment. However, you should only embark on this course of action after talking it over with your doctor and understanding the risks and side effects involved. It is often best to begin with therapy treatments and move on to medication if you are still having problems. The types of medication for obsessive-compulsive disorder usually contain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin reuptake inhibitors. With serotonin reuptake inhibitors, it can take between eight and 12 weeks for the medication to start working.

For people experiencing very severe cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder, there are other treatments. These include surgical procedures and deep brain stimulation. However, most people do not have obsessive-compulsive disorders that warrant such extreme treatments.

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