What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD is a disorder that features a pattern of unwanted thoughts and behaviors. The unwanted thoughts and fears are called obsessions, while repetitive behaviors are called compulsions. These behaviors can interfere with daily activities and cause major stress to an individual.
Obsessions can focus on anything from germs and cleaning to thoughts about sex and aggressive behaviors. Additionally, compulsions can include excessive cleaning, organizing things in a specific way, or repeating the same behavior repeatedly.
Who is affected by OCD?
OCD affects children, teenagers, and adults. Most people are diagnosed with OCD at 19 years old. However, it is not uncommon for children and adults to be diagnosed at different ages. Usually, boys are diagnosed earlier than girls.
There are no known causes for developing OCD, but risk factors include:
- Genetics/Family History – A person is more likely to be diagnosed with OCD if they have close family members with the disorder.
- Biology/Brain Structure – The structure of the brain and chemicals within the body can affect a person’s chances of developing OCD.
- Environment – The behaviors associated with OCD can become learned behaviors for children exposed to them.
- Other Disorders – Someone is more likely to be diagnosed with OCD if they have other mental health disorders such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, depression, etc.
Do I have obsessive compulsive disorder?
There is a difference between being a perfectionist and having OCD. Some people may think they have OCD when in reality they are just organized or like things arranged certain ways, which is normal.
When your thoughts or behaviors become disruptive to your day or you cannot function properly because of them, it may be time to see a doctor.
Symptoms of OCD
There are different levels of severity to the symptoms of OCD. These severity levels can change with age and throughout somebody’s life. Symptoms may include:
- Excessive cleaning or handwashing
- Washing your hands until your skin becomes raw
- Inability to control thoughts or behaviors, even when you know they are excessive
- Significant problems in daily life due to thoughts or behaviors
- Checking the same things repeatedly
- Counting in certain patterns
- Silently repeating a word or phrase
- Arranging objects to face the same way
To be diagnosed with OCD, a doctor may go through several processes first. A diagnosis may include:
- Psychological Evaluation – This may include a series of questions asking about your thoughts and feelings. These questions are to determine your obsessions and compulsions if any.
- Diagnostic Criteria for OCD – The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, may be used to match criteria for OCD.
- Physical Exam – A physical exam may be part of your diagnosis to rule out any other physical problems that may be contributing to your symptoms.
OCD can have similar symptoms to other mental health disorders. It is also possible to have OCD and other concurrent mental health disorders. This may make OCD difficult to diagnose, which is why it is important to be patient and work with your doctor.
How do I live with and treat OCD?
Treatment options for OCD are mainly different types of therapy or medication.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - A specialist trained in CBT can be beneficial to treating OCD. They may use techniques such as Exposure Therapy or Habit Reversal Training. These techniques include slowly exposing patients to different behaviors and thoughts that they have anxiety towards. For example, touching doorknobs without washing their hands right away. Habit reversal training can train somebody with OCD to change their obsessive habits slowly over time.
- Types of medications for OCD usually first include anti-depressants. Anti-depressants have different effects on specific individuals. It may take several months to find what works best for you.
Resources for treating OCD
Mayo Clinic – The Mayo Clinic has additional information on treatment options for OCD.