What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

Among the entire range of mental disorders, OCD is one of the well recognized and yet ill-understood diseases. The term is often used casually overlooking the seriousness of the condition. OCD is a mental illness arising out of lack of control over unwanted repetitive thoughts. This leads to the person performing certain peculiar tasks again and again compulsively.

Understanding OCD:

OCD is a chronic, long-lasting (lifelong if not treated) and a quite common mental illness. It is characterized by a person experiencing uncontrollable need to do specific things (compulsions) arising out of certain recurring thoughts (obsessions) that are many a times irrational. This is different than a basic requirement to want things to be or to be done in a certain way. These thoughts and habits aren’t always pleasant to the person and affect the quality of life in a way that is disabling as the person has no control over his/her thoughts and actions.

What are the causes and risk factors for OCD?

The cause is not clearly understood although some theories have been put up. Certain areas of the brain have shown to be abnormally functioning in OCD patients. The organic cause of OCD is still under active research and analysis. Some risk factors can be:

  • Familial: Increased risk is seen in people who have a history of the disease in the family
  • Impactful experiences: Having history of a traumatic (sexual abuse/harassment/bullying) experience in the past can lead to such conditions
  • A known case of depression, anxiety or other such disorders may have a higher risk
  • Stress can worsen and aggravate the condition

Also Read: Do Support Groups Help Older Adults with Depression and Anxiety?

What are the symptoms of OCD?

The symptoms can arise at any age group but are often noticed in adolescence. The symptoms can be a part of either the thinking (obsessions) or of the habits (compulsions).

1. The person experiences having irrational, nonproductive and repetitive thoughts that do not go away. This gives way to anxiety. The thoughts can be varied like:

  • Thoughts that generate fear or discomfort to things like unhygienic, messy or contaminated environment.
  • Strong opinionated thoughts about oneself or others or about social matters like sex, religion, etc. that can turn into aggression
  • Increased anxiety when things are not symmetrical or aligned in certain fashion
  • Counting things or repeating a phrase in their head for no apparent reason

2. Some habits (compulsions) can be:

  • Cleaning hands or washing the body multiple times and cleaning the household and their environment more than necessary
  • Collecting things that have no or little value or fear of giving up of possessions they don’t really need any more
  • Performing a certain ritual like taking a specific number of steps up and down, arranging and rearranging things, writing or reading something repeatedly, etc.

It is important to know that while everyone can have thoughts that nag them and aren’t easy to shrug off for a while, these patients have absolutely no control over their thoughts. To “calm” themselves or to decrease their anxiety, it’s necessary for them to perform some specific tasks compulsively. An OCD patient spends about 1 hour or more obsessing or compulsively performing specific rituals.

Also Read: How to know if you have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

How is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder diagnosed?

  • Physical examination
  • Blood work to look for other pathologies
  • Psychoanalysis: This includes a conversation with the patient about their thoughts, actions, past trauma and an analysis to look for symptoms for OCD.

What is the treatment for OCD?

OCD cannot be cured. Treatment aims at decreasing the symptoms and improving the lifestyle. OCD is frequently associated with other conditions like anxiety, depression, etc. and hence it is important to recognize these associations and plan a treatment regimen accordingly. The treatment consists of medications, psychotherapy or both.

1. Medications:

  • OCD symptoms are found to improve with an increase in a chemical substance called serotonin in the brain. Hence medicines that increase production or decrease the inhibition of this substance are given. These can be Fluoxetine, Sertraline, etc.
  • Antidepressants can also be used like Clomipramine.
  • Some patients are found to respond to antipsychotic and anti-anxiety medications as well.
  • These medications are to be taken strictly under medical supervision.

2. Psychotherapy:

Just as physiotherapy is given to habituate or regain muscle movements, psychotherapy targets the compulsive behaviors and aims at reversing them. It can include training to prevent a trigger for compulsive behavior, a reversal of the behavior, etc. For each patient, training methods could be different and specialized. Psychotherapy is given to patients who do not respond to medications or along with them to hasten recovery.

Other treatments like brain stimulation, talk therapies and association with organizations working for OCD can be helpful.

Also Read: 4 Natural Remedies for OCD


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