Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by distressing and repetitive thoughts, actions or images. A person has repetitive thoughts – such as repetition of a meaningless phrase, a person’s name, numbers, swear words, or violent thoughts that are out of character.

OCD sufferers get ‘stuck’ on certain thoughts and images, unable to let go. The thoughts recur no matter how hard they try to ignore or confront them.  People with OCD know their thoughts and actions are irrational, which magnifies their distress.

Compulsive actions usually accompany obsessive thoughts, which can’t be stopped. A person will have an uncontrollable compulsion to perform rituals and repetitive acts, such as banging as a chair a certain number of times before sitting down, or walking in repetitive patterns, excessive washing or cleaning, or checking locks numerous times (sometimes hundreds of times) before going to bed.  

At work, OCD sufferers check things over and over, because of a sense the action has not been completed properly.  Tasks take much longer to complete, often resulting in severe emotional and sometimes financial distress.

Stopping the obsessive thoughts is the goal of the compulsive acts, but the relief is temporary. The person hates doing it, but not performing obsessive rituals creates severe anxiety.

Most people with severe major depressive disorder also develop OCD symptoms, especially repetitive irrational or racing thoughts that can’t be controlled.

What causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Abnormalities in the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are associated with OCD. Brain scans of people with OCD show impaired circuitry function and different activity patterns than those without OCD.

Genetic factors are believed to be responsible for most cases of OCD.  Hormonal fluctuations can trigger rapid onset of symptoms in women with a genetic vulnerability. Studies show that more than 50% of women diagnosed with OCD experienced their first onset during pregnancy.

Treatment for Obsessive Compulsive Disorders

If you are experiencing symptoms of OCD, see your doctor. It’s important to request a complete medical exam, as other physical conditions can mimic the symptoms of OCD.

OCD is typically treated with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s). Your doctor may combine this with other medications that address dopamine levels. Atypical OCD may require different medications, or a combination of medications. Ask your doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist who specializes in OCD.

After chemical balance is restored, many people benefit from psychotherapy to help “re-train” the brain. If OCD is untreated for a lengthy period of time, irrational thought patterns may become entrenched in the mind. The right medications will stop the compulsions, but the thought patterns may still be a problem. A trained therapist can help you address this, usually through cognitive behavior therapy.

If you are experiencing the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder, see your doctor. If you are having suicidal thoughts, immediately call an ambulance or go to the nearest emergency ward.

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