Did you know that around 1.8% of the population were diagnosed with OCD within the past year? Despite having heard about OCD, many people are unaware of what it is or why some people have it and others do not.
Perhaps you have asked yourself these questions if you aren’t afflicted with OCD but know someone who does. Being familiar with OCD is important not just for understanding those who have it, but for understanding the condition itself. You can’t understand what someone suffering from this condition goes through without knowing the cause, the symptoms, and the treatment options.
The term ‘OCD’ is short for obsessive-compulsive disorder. With this name, the features of this mental illness — obsessions and compulsions — are defined perfectly.
Some people only suffer from mild OCD, which does not interfere with their day-to-day lives. On the other hand, in some cases, OCD can be so severe that a person cannot function normally in society.
The stress of living with OCD, along with fear, causes sufferers to have invasive thoughts or perform actions repeatedly. Despite sounding mild, these characteristics can negatively impact living a normal life.
Many OCD patients try to stop performing repetitive, useless actions to avoid anxiety, fear, and stress, but this often leads to even greater symptoms. In response to this rebound of stress and fear, they may act compulsively and obsessively because these actions may give a brief albeit fleeting sense of relief.
Due to this harmful cycle, OCD sufferers can find it hard to let go of their obsessions. Additionally, they may feel embarrassed about their condition. The embarrassment may prevent them from seeking professional treatment and may have a negative impact on how they live their lives.
Researchers have not yet found a definitive answer as to the cause of OCD. However, genetic factors may be involved.
Studies have shown that OCD is more common among those with close family members who also suffer from the condition. This suggests that certain people may be affected by one or more genes responsible for developing OCD.
To date, only the human serotonin transporter gene (hSERT) has been the only gene identified as potentially causing OCD when mutated. However, as with all ongoing research it is not yet certain if hSERT is the only true cause of OCD.
Besides genetic factors, there seems to be an environmental component to OCD development as well. For example, illnesses or stressful life events may contribute to the subsequent development of OCD. Children affected by Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS) may develop OCD in response to an infection.
Though sufferers of OCD usually exhibit both obsessive and compulsive behavior, some people only experience one or the other. Thus, OCD signs and symptoms are divided into obsessive and compulsive actions.
Obsessive symptoms most often include invasive thoughts that cause stress and compel OCD patients to perform compulsive actions. Those with OCD may not even realize that their thoughts are not normal.
These negative thoughts can be distracting and can often interfere with daily life such as at school, on the job or during social functions. The obsessive fears are often germophobic in nature — though it has since become known as a stereotype of all OCD sufferers — and can include fear of being contaminated, being around dirty or human touch in general.
Obsessive thoughts can be violent or disturbing as well. This can include fear of hurting yourself or others or thoughts urging you to act inappropriately in a public setting.
The compulsive symptoms of OCD are characterized by repetitive actions caused by fear or intrusive thoughts. These repetitive actions are not pleasurable, but they offer a brief break from the anxiety of the obsessive symptoms.
Some with OCD will create plans or rituals to control their intrusive thoughts. However, they do not often work and continue to perpetuate the obsessive-compulsive cycle of the condition.
If these rituals are not followed, or if something in the environment is displaced, one suffering from OCD may become very stressed. People with OCD often find it difficult to maintain close relationships for this reason.
OCD seems to affect both men and women equally. As mentioned earlier, OCD symptoms can start at any age ranging from childhood to adulthood. Whenever symptoms first begin, they may be mild.
The severity of OCD may worsen over time, but some cases may worsen more than others. OCD can only be diagnosed by a trained psychiatric professional. It is also fairly common to see OCD diagnosed with other anxiety disorders, such as social anxiety, phobias, or panic disorder.
The psychiatric professional will look for the characteristic signs and symptoms of OCD. These are obsessions and compulsions that interfere with one’s daily actions and ability to live a normal life.
There is no cure for OCD, but there are OCD treatment centers and treatment options available. OCD treatment options include medication and therapy.
Medications include SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) to regulate the brain’s serotonin. Antidepressants and anxiolytics may also be used.
Antidepressants are usually the first mode of action. Those with OCD may need to try different medications to find the one that works for them. OCD sufferers often find that their mental health conditions improve with the right medication, or they may choose to rely on more advanced treatments, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
Therapy often includes cognitive behavioral therapy. This involves changing the way one with OCD thinks. It also tackles the lessening of OCD fears such as dirt or germs.
Therapy requires effort but is often very effective. This is because one with OCD is able to recognize their obsessive and compulsive actions or fears. They are then able to recognize that these actions and fears are fruitless and can move past them.
Now that you know more about OCD treatment, causes, and signs, you can better understand OCD as a whole. If you or someone you know suffers from OCD, you can better determine when it’s time to get professional help.
Acera Health is Orange County’s leading mental health treatment center. It is our mission to see individuals forge their own pathways through mental disorders and discover who they can really become. We provide everything from inpatient residential treatment to intensive outpatient treatment.
Our mental health professionals can help you or your loved ones learn to manage their intrusive thoughts and eventually overcome their OCD, along with any other severe mental health conditions. To learn more about our levels of care, contact us here.