Obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD is just one of several types of anxiety disorders that plague millions of adults in America. Those who suffer from OCD are usually driven by compulsive thoughts and behaviors that compel them to constantly repeat various actions and rituals on a daily basis. For an OCD sufferer, this compulsive behavior is often a way to reduce the amount of anxiety felt, even though it’s short-lived.
Because there are many different types of obsessive compulsive disorders, the symptoms tend to vary greatly among sufferers. However, treatment options are available and in most cases, can greatly help to effectively manage the obsessive compulsive behavior portrayed by those who suffer from this type of anxiety disorder.
Symptoms & Effects of Obsessive Compulsive Disorders
Some professionals describe OCD as a case of “pathological doubt.” Often OCD sufferers feel as though they must recheck everything they do. An example of this type of obsessive compulsive behavior would be locking the door before leaving home, but before getting into the car, going back and checking if the door is in fact locked.
The DSM-IV-TR criteria for OCD are either obsessions or compulsions:
Obsessions are defined by:
- recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress
- the thoughts, impulses, or images are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems
- the person attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, impulses, or images, or to neutralize them with some other thought or action
- the person recognizes that the obsessional thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of his or her own mind
Compulsions are defined by:
- repetitive behaviors (hand washing) or mental acts (counting) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession, or according to rules that must be applied rigidly
- the behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing or reducing distress or preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent or are clearly excessive.
After using everyday appliances around the home such as the toaster, oven, iron or stove, people suffering from OCD may be driven to go back numerous times in an effort to ensure they have turned off or unplugged the items. OCD sufferers who constantly need to recheck things are often fearful that if they miss something, a serious problem could occur and the fault would be entirely on them. As a result of spending so much time re-checking everything done throughout the day, even routine tasks such as cooking and doing the laundry can be extremely difficult and intense.
Other types of OCD can also make those who suffer from the disorder to be extreme perfectionists who constantly have to have things arranged in the “correct” way or in a specified order. Another manifestation of OCD is being absolutely unable to throw anything away. OCD sufferers who are classified as “hoarders” typically see value, or potential value, in even the smallest things, but are unable to objectively weigh that value with the costs (storage space, organization, etc) of keeping them. The consequence of this type of obsessive compulsive disorder is often having a disorganized, cluttered home with no available space.
Obsessive compulsive disorder and obsessive compulsive personality disorder are, confusingly, two separate disorders. The two disorders may seem similar in externally observable ways, but are experienced very differently by the effected individuals. Persons with OCD are aware that their thoughts and compulsions are unreasonable, whereas persons with OCPD consider their actions perfectly reasonable and often will not acknowledge that there is anything unusual about their behavior.
Causes of OCD
While researchers have been unable to find any “known” causes for obsessive compulsive disorder, many believe that the anxiety disorder may be caused by chemical imbalances within the brain. In addition to certain types of medication, therapy is also used to treat those who suffer from OCD.
Treatment for OCD
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the approaches used as treatment for obsessive compulsive disorder. The CBT technique used for OCD is ERP (Exposure ritual/response prevention). In ERP the patient is exposed to a mild trigger, such as touching an item that has touched another item that has touched a third item that came from an unsterilized location, and then the patient would resist the urge to wash their hands. In severe cases the patient would not avoid washing their hands altogether, but would limit their hand washing to only one time. While cognitive therapy may not work for every OCD patient, it is generally considered to be the most likely to help gain control over this type of anxiety disorder.
OCD is also treated with medications, SSRIs being the most commonly prescribed. Generally antidepressant therapy alone only partially reduces symptoms, so it is best used as an adjunctive to other therapy. While OCD is an anxiety disorder, benzodiazepines, which are the primary medication for most anxiety issues, are not considered effective for treatment of OCD.