Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (“Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder”), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a disorder that can last your entire life. The main symptoms are uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts and behaviors that makes you feel the urge to repeat over and over. OCD can manifest itself in the form of behaviors such as repetitive actions that a person cannot control or tics. Some common examples are people that constantly wash their hands, check doors repetitively to see if they are locked or light switches to see if they are off. A key part of this being a disorder is when it interferes with daily life. In this paper, I will examine and describe OCD, its signs and symptoms, causes, treatments and the long term prognosis of the disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is when you have a pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears that lead you to do certain things repetitively. These disorder may interfere with your everyday life and can be a horrible distraction to things you have to do. According to Rachman (2009), people with OCD are afflicted with disturbing unwanted thoughts and feel compelled repeatedly to carry out activities that they know to be irrational. It is difficult for them to understand, and equally difficult to explain to other people, why they repeatedly engage in senseless behavior. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 2.2 million adults or about 1% of the population of the United States has OCD (https://adaa.org). This includes approximately 1 in every 40 adults and 1 in every 100 children.

Some of the more common symptoms of OCD cited by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) are categorized into Obsessions and Compulsions. Obsessions can include things like fear of germs, unwanted and forbidden thoughts, being aggressive towards other people and needing to have things in a perfect order. On the other hand, Compulsions are the behaviors that a person with OCD feels they need to do all the time or it gets in the way of them accomplishing what they set out to do. Examples can include behaviors such as excessive cleaning, ordering things in a certain way and repeatedly checking on things like locked doors and light switches. While people without OCD may do some of these things, the NIH (nimh.nih.gov) states that a person with OCD can’t control his or her thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive.

There is no known exact cause of OCD. However, much of the research has identified that people with OCD have brains that work differently than those without it. Research has also shown that OCD can be genetic. The International OCD Foundation (https://iocdf.org) states that OCD does run in families, and that genes likely pay a role in the development of the disorder.

Additionally, WebMD (https://www.webmd.com) states that OCD is slightly more common in women than in men. The site also states that certain things can make a person more likely to get the disorder. This includes having an immediate family member with OCD, developing another psychological disorder such as depression, anxiety or tics, if a person experiences trauma or has a history that includes physical or sexual abuse when the person was a child.

Some other research has suggested that there are environmental factors that can lead to the development of OCD. BeyondOCD (2018) states that some triggers that have been associated with the start of OCD are traumatic brain injuries or a severe illness in children. This can include such sicknesses that people feel are common like strep throat or the flu. They make clear that while these illnesses themselves do not cause OCD, they can be triggers for the development of the disorder. Other environmental factors may include stress and the style of parenting a child is raised under, but this has not yet been definitively proven.

While there is no cure for OCD, treatment mostly involves Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and/or medication (Koran, 2017). Treatment should also involve what they call Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). ERP means having the person with OCD be exposed to their thoughts and recognizing that they have them and it is part of their disorder. The Response Prevention part of this therapy is for the counseling to work that allows the person to make the choice not to do the compulsive behavior once it is recognized. It is important to know that the most effective treatment is a combination of all of these strategies. Another treatment for OCD is called Habit Reversal Training. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (https://adaa.org), this training involves practicing of the tic or habit in front of a mirror and figuring out what situation causes the tic you have. By doing this, it will help you gain awareness of when and why the habit or tic happens and start to help avoid the things that trigger them. Habit reversal training takes patience and time as you are trying to get rid of an addictive tic or habit. Having family around to support you during this is an important part fo this treatment method.. Cognitive therapy could also be used to help you with your disorder. A therapist will help you understand when your tics or habits may happen and he/she will help you respond in different ways.

There are also medications that can help with OCD. Many of the medications used to treat people with OCD are the same that are used to treat people with depression. These medications are classified as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). The National Institute of Mental Health (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/) states that these medications can take up to 10-12 weeks to actually start working. They go on to say that, even thought there is no cure, people under treatment can learn to live full and productive lives. Additionally, the most successful treatment of OCD combines both of the above methods, CBT and Medication.

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