It’s not uncommon to hear obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, used in the context of a joke. For example, someone who prefers to keep their home clean may say, “Oh, I’m OCD about cleaning.”
However, there’s a difference between a preference and a compulsion, and that’s what separates real OCD from the kind commonly used in colloquial speech. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder have a need to do certain things as a routine, to the point where it can control their lives.
On this page, we discuss what OCD is, how it manifests itself in those who suffer from it, common OCD treatments and FHE Health approaches this condition with the aim of lessening the symptoms and giving our patients more control over their lives.
What is OCD?
We all experience that feeling of anxiousness or fear when we think we forgot to lock our car door or turn off the stove when we left our house. However, that little burst of obsessive-compulsive behavior that you experienced is not even close to what an individual diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder endures on a daily basis. For those who have been diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, these feelings and behaviors are unwanted, uncontrollable, and very overwhelming.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, better known as OCD, is a mental health disorder in which individuals experience repetitive, obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Unfortunately, these thoughts and behaviors negatively affect the way these individuals live their lives and may influence the way they think, their decision making, and their social behavior. Many individuals suffering from OCD feel hopeless because they are incapable of overcoming these compulsive thoughts and behaviors, but have not been successful when it comes to accomplishing this task.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is said to effect 1% of the U.S. population and is present in both men and women. Many individuals begin to experience OCD around the age of 19, but there have been many reports of OCD being recorded in teens as young as 14 years of age.
OCD Is Marked by “Obsessions” and “Compulsions”
As the name suggested, the lives of people with OCD are controlled by obsessions and compulsions. Here’s a brief explanation of what these two components are and some key examples, courtesy of the International OCD Foundation:
A person is obsessed with someone when one or two thoughts regularly dominate their thinking. People with OCD often complain that they cannot get away from thinking one thing in particular, or they are constantly aware of something that bothers them, and that thinking about their obsessions consumes their life. Here are a few examples of the most common obsessions reported by patients with OCD.
- Contamination: Hygiene is one of the most common obsessions exhibited by patients with this condition and corresponds to one of the most common compulsions. In these cases, people notice any time anything isn’t clean, whether it’s a part of their body or something in their living space.
- Unwanted/perverse thoughts: Many obsessive-compulsive people say that they can’t stop thinking the same few unwanted thoughts. Often, these thoughts deal with taboo sexuality.
- Loss of self-control: OCD patients often fear doing something they don’t want to do, whether it’s harming themselves or those around them, or even saying something obscene in public.
- Perfectionism: Often OCD patients feel the suffocating need for everything to be in its place and for the life they’re living to be perfect. This is why many of the top performers in academia and business tend to have slight obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
Compulsions are not dissimilar from obsessions, but they involve the need to perform actions on a routine basis or over and over in a single sitting. Here are a few examples of compulsions that a person with OCD may experience.
- Cleaning: This goes hand-in-hand with the obsession about being as clean as possible. People with OCD commonly wash their hands or something that they use often as much as hundreds of times per day.
- Double-checking: Going back to the example of a regular person double-checking whether they locked the car before going into a store, OCD patients often experience this need in a much stronger way. For example, a person may hit the lock button 10 or more times, or flip a light switch a set number of times to prevent worrying about it after leaving.
- Repeating words or phrases: Many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder feel like they need to say a word more than once or an extraneous phrase every time they talk, almost like a tic.
- Mental compulsions: Mental compulsions resemble something in the middle of an obsession and a compulsion. Some people, for example, only set alarms and timers to certain numbers as a form of superstition about numerical patterns.
How Many America Adults Suffer from OCD?
The fact that OCD is often used in a casual way to describe someone being overly worried or anxious about something obscures the number of real cases of this difficult condition in the United States, but an estimated 1 in 40 American adults live with constant anxiety or physical discomfort that they can’t control due to this disease. This makes up between 2-3% of the population.
The World Health Organization lists obsessive-compulsive disorder in the top 20 causes of illness-related disability worldwide among people between the ages of 15 and 44.
The rate of prevalence is much lower in children — close to 1 in 100 — because the symptoms start to appear in mid to late adolescence, getting stronger and more severe as a person reaches adulthood.
What Causes Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
One of the issues that arise when trying to find effective methods of obsessive-compulsive disorder treatment is a lack of information about the source of the condition. It’s well-documented how the disease affects those who struggle with it, but it’s not as clear where it comes from or why some people are at a higher risk than others.
According to the Mayo Clinic, researchers have proposed three main theories about the origins of OCD:
It’s generally understood that as a person develops early OCD, their brain chemistry changes due to something abnormal. What this something is, however, is still relatively mysterious, but it could just be a random biological event.
Studies have shown that people are more likely to develop OCD when others in their immediate families already have the disorder, but it’s not known exactly which genes carry this trait.
3. Some Other Mental Illness or Traumatic Event
If a person’s thoughts are changed drastically, research suggests that dormant OCD can appear. For example, if someone experiences something traumatic, they may obsess over the fear of that thing happening again and lose control.
Signs & Symptoms of OCD
The symptoms displayed by individuals suffering with OCD can be broken down into two categories: obsessive symptoms and compulsive symptoms. While some individuals may favor symptoms from just category, many may suffer with symptoms from both.
Obsessive symptoms are very invasive and in no way wanted by the individual. Obsessions can include repetitive and consistent thoughts, images, or urges, and can decrease a person’s ability to focus on anything else in life. Obsessions may also lead to severe stress and anxiety. Some symptoms of obsessions may include:
- Suffering from undesirable thoughts
- Experiencing graphic, disturbing thoughts
- Seeing inappropriate thoughts in one’s mind that may be religious or sexual
- Suffering from excessive concerns that have to do with symmetry or arrangement of things
- Constantly worrying about germs or contamination of things
- Experiencing aggressive impulses
Compulsive symptoms are characterized by unusual behaviors that make people feel as though they are forced to perform even though they do not want to. When the compulsion to act on these behaviors comes about, individuals who suffer from OCD feel powerless and cannot avoid acting on these behaviors. If they do not act on these behaviors, they will experience high levels of stress and anxiety. Some examples of compulsive symptoms can include:
- Checking and re-checking certain tasks to ensure they have been completed
- The inability to stop repeating a task or word, such as turning a light switch on or off a certain amount of times before leaving a room
- Feeling compelled to touch objects a certain amount of times or a certain way
- Feeling the need to constantly rearrange things, such as your office desk or home furniture
- Having difficulties with throwing away items, also known as hoarding
- Engaging in behaviors excessively, such as bathing or cleaning
Long-Term Effects of OCD
When individuals are denied of or do not receive the proper treatment for their OCD, long-term effects will occur that can be damaging. In addition, when proper treatment is not received, the OCD symptoms that the individual suffers with will begin to intensify, which will lead to even more disturbances and issues in their life. The effects of untreated symptoms on OCD may include:
- Inability to meet employment expectations
- Isolation from others and flawed relationships
- Alienation from friends and family members
- Self-inflicted injuries
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
- Developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol
- Development of other mental health disorders, such as depression
Effective OCD Treatments
There are a few ways to manage OCD:
Evidenced-Based Treatment: Psychotherapy
Cognitive behavioral therapies have proved successful in helping people with OCD manage their symptoms. One OCD treatment that appears more promising than the rest is called exposure and response prevention, in which patients are gradually exposed to the source of their obsessions or compulsions as a way to help them become desensitized.
Medication-Assisted Treatment: Pharmacotherapy
While no drug exists specifically to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, a variety of medications have been successful in helping patients manage the symptoms.
The drugs found to be most effective are antidepressants, including Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac and Anafranil.
Conventional Treatment: Counseling
Combining treatments is the most effective way to manage any mental health disorder. At FHE Health, we offer a range of counseling and one-on-one therapy options to help patients understand their conditions and begin to overcome them.
OCD Treatment at FHE Health
Have you ever asked yourself, “Do I have OCD?” If so, then it’s something you should have professionally evaluated. In many cases, anxiety disorders and neuroses are confused with OCD, but with 1 in 40 adults suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, it’s important to know for sure and find the OCD treatment that works for you.
At FHE Health, we offer a range of options in the area of neuro-rehab, which you can learn more about here. Please contact us if you or someone you know is struggling with a mental health condition.