Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder that can result in extreme obsessions or compulsive actions. Originally thought to be quite rare, it is now apparent that OCD affects a large percentage of the population. In fact, according to the International OCD Foundation, up to 3 million men and women in the United States are currently suffering from OCD. According to OCD specialist, Dr. Monnica Williams at the University of Pennsylvania, “Most people don’t realize just how devastating OCD can be. Many people with OCD are disabled by obsessions and compulsions that may take up to ten hours per day.” If you find that your daily routine is being compromised by certain obsessions, make an appointment with a mental health care provider to learn more about OCD.

What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a brain disorder that causes extreme anxiety, worry, and guilt. If you have obsessive compulsive disorder you may worry unduly about having a neat house or about the health and safety of others. What makes OCD so unbearable are the uncontrollable feelings that something bad will happen if you do not act in a certain way.

OCD can affect anyone at any age. Men and women appear to be affected at the same rates and with the same symptoms. Often, OCD will begin in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood, and get progressively worse. OCD used to be a very difficult disorder to treat, but now there are many effective therapies available to control the symptoms of the disorder. The majority of sufferers will be able to live happy and productive lives. However, there is no cure for OCD and only 20% of sufferers will recover completely from their symptoms.

Cause of OCD
OCD is thought to be caused by a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors. People with OCD have a defect in certain systems in the brain, which prevents adequate communication within the brain. In particular, OCD sufferers seem to have a problem with the frontal lobe and the basal ganglia, a structure deep within the brain. OCD sufferers also tend to have low levels of serotonin in their brains, a neurotransmitter responsible for helping parts of your brain communicate with other parts.

Other causes of OCD may rest with genetics. No specific genes that cause OCD have yet been discovered, however, it is believed that some cases of OCD may be inherited. In particular, childhood OCD seems to run in families and more than a third of all adults with OCD claim their disorder began in childhood. Childhood strep infections have also been linked to OCD developing in children who were already predisposed to the disorder.

Environmental factors may also have an important role to play in obsessive compulsive disorder causes. Childhood sexual abuse or exposure to an obsessive compulsive parent may increase your risk of developing OCD.

Symptoms of OCD
Obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms usually involve both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwanted thoughts or impulses that reoccur constantly, causing feelings of disgust, anxiety, guilt, or fear. Compulsions are actions that are usually used to help these obsessions disappear. These actions are done over and over again, and may have to conform to certain rules or standards.

Compulsive acts are not at all pleasurable, but instead are performed only to reduce the stress caused by the obsession. More than 80% of all OCD sufferers experience both obsessions and compulsions on a regular basis. Symptoms of OCD may come and go over time, altering in intensity. 20% of people with OCD also experience tics, which are random sounds or movements of the body.

Obsessions: If you have OCD, it is most likely an obsession that drives your compulsive behavior. Common obsessive symptoms of OCD include fears of contamination, fears of self-harm or the harm of others, excessive religious thoughts, aggressive urges, sexual fears, and the need to have things in just the “right” place. Obsessions manifest as thoughts, images, or worries, and can occur at any time. They cause severe anxiety and discomfort, and will make you want to do anything to get rid of them. Most obsessions make no logical sense and the majority of OCD sufferers are aware of this. However, despite the illogicality of their obsessions, OCD sufferers may be unable to overcome the disorder on their own. Those sufferers who don’t see a lack of logic in their fears are described as having illogical OCD.

Compulsions: OCD compulsions are usually triggered by an obsessive fear or worry. In order to reduce your anxiety, you may find yourself performing certain actions that could take up a large amount of your day. These compulsive actions may temporarily relieve some stress, but will never completely solve your anxiety. Compulsions are often ritualized and must be performed according to certain “rules.” If these rules are not adhered to properly, they are often done again until they are performed exactly right. Common compulsions in OCD include obsessive washing (as can occur in Mysophobia, more commonly referred to as germaphobia), counting, repeating, checking, arranging, touching, praying, and hoarding.

Possible Consequences of OCD
OCD is associated with a number of possible consequences. If treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder isn’t sought early on, it could lead to an inability to work or interact with other people. Many sufferers of OCD also experience depression, bipolar disorder, phobias (such as agoraphobia), and eating disorders. If you have OCD for a long period of time you may also find that you suffer from panic attacks and are unable to continue with work or maintain household responsibilities.

Support for OCD
Whether your OCD is mild or severe, coping with the disorder can be emotionally stressful and strain your relationships. Getting support from others is especially important, and is also a good way to prevent loved ones from feeling burned out from repeated requests for reassurance. Many treatment providers and non-profit advocacy organizations (such as your local chapter of the International OCD Foundation) offer support groups for patients and family members. There are also a number of online support communities, such as NeuroticPlanet, which can offer peer support straight from your computer. No one suffering from OCD needs to cope with the disorder alone.

For more information about obsessive-compulsive disorder, visit OCD Types.

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