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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

It’s normal, on occasion, to double-check that the curling iron is unplugged, the garage door is shut or your car is locked. But Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, also known as OCD, is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by recurrent, unwarranted thoughts and/or repetitive behaviors.

OCD affects about 2.2 million American adults, and the problem can be accompanied by eating disorders, other anxiety disorders, or depression. It strikes men and women in roughly equal numbers and usually appears in childhood, adolescence, or early adulthood. One-third of adults with OCD develop symptoms as children, and research has indicated that there is a high possibility that OCD might be hereditary.

With OCD you may realize that your obsessions aren’t reasonable, and you may try to ignore them or stop them. Unfortunately, any attempt to prevent the behaviors from occurring only increases your levels of distress and anxiety. Ultimately, you feel driven to perform compulsive acts in an effort to ease your stressful feelings.

Most often, individuals who suffer from OCD engage in repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, counting, checking, or cleaning, with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away.2 Performing these so-called “rituals,” however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety.

Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Most people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions, but some people experience just one or the other. The symptoms of OCD may wax and wane over time, but often times, the symptoms get worse in times of stress.

OCD obsessions are repeated, persistent and unwanted ideas, thoughts, images or impulses that occur involuntarily and seem to make no sense. These obsessions typically intrude when you’re trying to think of or do other things, and most often follow a particular pattern or theme such as3:

  • Fear of contamination or dirt
  • Having things orderly and symmetrical
  • Aggressive or horrific impulses
  • Sexual images or thoughts

A person suffering from obsessions may possess certain signs and symptoms including:

  • Doubts that you’ve locked the door or turned off the stove
  • Fear of being contaminated by shaking hands or by touching objects others have touched
  • Hair loss or bald spots because of hair pulling
  • Dermatitis because of frequent hand washing
  • Intense stress when objects aren’t orderly or facing the right way
  • Images of hurting your child
  • Impulses to shout obscenities in inappropriate situations
  • Thoughts that you’ve hurt some in a traffic accident

Treatment for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

There’s a difference between being a perfectionist and having obsessive-compulsive disorder. With OCD, you may have a low quality of life because the condition rules most of your days. You may be very distressed, but you seem powerless to stop your urges.

There are many effective treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), ranging from therapy to self-help and medication.

Therapy treatments such as exposure & response prevention involve repeated exposure to the source of your obsession, where you are then asked to refrain from the compulsive behavior you’d usually perform to reduce your anxiety. Cognitive therapy teaches individuals healthy and effective ways of responding to obsessive thoughts, without resorting to compulsive behavior.

Other types of treatment plans include medication such as various antidepressants; Family Therapy to promote understanding of the disorder; and Group Therapy to provide encouragement and decrease feelings of isolation with fellow OCD sufferers.

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