OCD is characterized by obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors that significantly interfere with normal life. Obsessions are unwanted, recurrent, and disturbing thoughts which the person cannot suppress and which can cause overwhelming anxiety. Compulsions are repetitive, ritualized behaviors that the person feels driven to perform to alleviate the anxiety of the obsessions. The obsessive and compulsive rituals can occupy many hours of each day. It affects men, women, and children, as well as people of all races, religions, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
What causes OCD?
- OCD is a medical illness recognized by experts throughout the world.
- OCD is the fourth most common mental illness and affects approximately 5 million people in the United States.
- People with OCD are not "crazy", although they may sometimes feel that way because they are troubled by thoughts and actions that they know are inappropriate.
- People with OCD are often anxious and depressed.
- People with OCD often believe they are the only ones who have irrational, obsessive thoughts, and are therefore often ashamed and afraid to tell anyone or to seek help.
- Diagnosis is delayed until these symptoms are "unmasked".
- Having OCD is not a sign of weakness or a lack of willpower in stopping the thoughts and behaviors.
- Although the exact cause is not known, experts believe that OCD may be caused by low levels of a chemical in the brain called serotonin.
- OCD is a treatable disease, and effective medications and therapy techniques are available.
- Sufferers can get better if they seek help and get the appropriate treatment.
OCD appears to be caused by increased activity in the orbital frontal cortex and caudate nucleus of the brain. OCD may also involve abnormal functioning of the neurotransmitter
serotonin in the brain.
Stress does not cause OCD; however, a stressful event like the death of a loved one, birth of a child, or divorce can trigger the onset of the disorder. Can someone have both obsessions and compulsions?
At least 80% of patients with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions. Probably under 20% have only obsessions or compulsions.
Obsessions can cause anxiety, causing the sufferer to engage in compulsions in an attempt to alleviate the distress caused by the obsessions. Carrying out these compulsions, or rituals, does not result in any permanent change, and in fact, the OCD symptoms worsen. What are the most common obsessions?
What are the most common compulsions?
- Fear of contamination
- Fear of causing harm to another
- Fear of making a mistake
- Fear of behaving in a socially unacceptable manner
- Need for symmetry or exactness
- Excessive doubt
How do you treat OCD?
The two most effective treatments for OCD are conventional drug therapy and behavioral therapy. It is generally most effective if the two can be used together.
The most effective medications for OCD are the SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) Prozac, Paxil, Luvox, and Zoloft as well as the tricyclic Anafranil. Other medications may be added to improve the effect. More about these type of medications.
Behavioral therapy teaches people with OCD to confront their fears and reduce the anxiety
without performing the rituals.