EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post originally appeared on www.psychguides.com.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is an anxiety disorder that generally causes extreme discomfort. Sufferers are often riddled with persistent and recurrent impulses, thoughts and images that are unwanted. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, OCD affects more than 2 million adults in the United States. Severe cases of OCD can cause an extreme amount of distress, and the disorder can dramatically interfere with a person’s daily life.
What Are the Types of OCD?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the categories of obsessive-compulsive disorder include:
- Intrusive thoughts
- Constant checking
- Fear of contamination
Sufferers of OCD who have intrusive thoughts generally have reoccurring images in their minds that are disturbing or horrific. These thoughts may occur based on an event that happened in the person’s life, or they may occur for no particular reason. Sufferers of OCD who have the need to constantly check on people or items generally fear that something bad will happen if they stop checking. For example, someone with OCD may constantly walk throughout their home to make sure all the doors and windows are locked due to their fear that someone might try to break in.
Sufferers who have a fear of contamination may take baths and wash their hands many times throughout the course of one day, or they may be obsessed with cleaning every inch of their home to ensure it is spotless and free of germs. OCD sufferers who hoard items are obsessed with making sure they keep everything they’ve ever owned, even if the item is worn out or useless. A person who hoards becomes emotionally attached to items, and the very thought of throwing things away can cause great distress.
Obsessions are images, ideas, and thoughts that simply will not go away. While it is not uncommon for individuals to have disturbing thoughts from time to time, a person with OCD cannot escape their thoughts no matter how hard they try. These recurring thoughts are so severe that they can debilitate someone with OCD.
Compulsions are behaviors that individuals with obsessions display in order to relieve themselves of their anxiety. With OCD, the compulsive behavior is directly related to the excessive thought. For example, someone who counts their money every hour may have an obsessive fear someone will steal it or they will lose it.
Obsessions Without Compulsions
There is not always a physical behavior associated with an obsession. If you constantly worry about or have obsessive thoughts about something you cannot control, such as the safety of a long-lost relative, you may feel a great deal of distress, but your doctor is unlikely to diagnose you with obsessive-compulsive disorder. There is generally some type of compulsive behavior that accompanies the obsession in individuals who receive this diagnosis.
What Causes OCD?
OCD is a disorder that is not yet fully understood. However, medical professionals believe there is a genetic component to this disease, as there is some research that has shown that this disorder has the tendency to run in families. This behavior can also be learned based on habits you may have developed during childhood or over a long period of time.
What Are the Signs of OCD?
The symptoms of OCD include both obsessive and compulsive behaviors. Signs of obsession include:
- Repeated unwanted ideas
- Fear of contamination
- Aggressive impulses
- Persistent sexual thoughts
- Images of hurting someone you love
- Thoughts that you might cause others harm
- Thoughts that you might be harmed
Signs of compulsion include:
- Constant checking
- Constant counting
- The repeated cleaning of one or more items
- Repeatedly washing your hands
- Constantly checking the stove or door locks
- Arranging items to face a certain way
Emotional Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Sufferers of OCD are generally very anxious and emotional. They display many non-OCD symptoms, such as signs of depression, excessive worry, extreme tension, and the constant feeling that nothing is ever right.
Physical Symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Aside from the obvious compulsive behaviors a person with OCD displays, there are no physical signs of this disorder; however, a person with OCD can develop physical problems. For example, a person with a germ obsession may wash their hands so much that the skin on them becomes red, raw and painful.
Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of OCD
A person with OCD may experience multiple short-term effects, including the inability to function as a contributing member of society, difficulties at school or work, or trouble maintaining friendships or romantic relationships. The long-term effects of OCD generally develop due to the poor quality of life that most extreme sufferers have. Long-term effects include depression, constant anxiety and an increased risk of substance abuse.
Is There a Test or Self-Assessment I Can Do?
If your loved ones have told you that you have obsessive thoughts or are compulsive in action, you have likely noticed that you do, in fact, have some compulsive behaviors. Most patients with OCD are aware of the behaviors they are displaying; they just cannot stop them.
There is no self-assessment exam for OCD sufferers, but you can self-assess by getting together with your loved ones and coming up with a list of behaviors you consistently display. You can then discuss this list with your healthcare provider.
After speaking to you about your thoughts and behaviors, your doctor may recommend a psychological evaluation. Your doctor may also want to speak to your loved ones and close friends.
OCD Medication: Anti-Anxiety Drug Options
The medications used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder are the same drugs used to treat most anxiety disorders. Psychotherapy is another important aspect of treatment and generally recommended in conjunction with medication use.
OCD Drugs: Possible Options
According to the Mayo Clinic, the medications used to treat OCD generally include Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Luvox and Anafranil. These psychiatric medicines can control compulsions and obsessive thoughts. They work by increasing the level of serotonin in your brain, which is generally low in sufferers of OCD.
Medication Side Effects
Most anxiety medications, including the ones listed above, have side effects. Vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination, shaking, abnormal urination, vision changes, extreme confusion, stiff muscles, appetite changes, loss of sex drive and more are all possible side effects of these medications. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away.
Anti-OCD Drug Addiction, Dependence and Withdrawal
It is also possible to form a dependence on these drugs; therefore, it is important to strictly follow your doctor’s guidelines when taking them. These drugs may help to alleviate your OCD symptoms, but taking them too often can make it difficult for you to stop taking the drugs at your doctor’s recommendation.
Another reason why it is important to strictly adhere to your doctor’s recommendations is to prevent an overdose. Rapid heartbeat, breathing problems, vomiting, nausea, shakiness, seizure, extreme drowsiness, and low blood pressure can all occur if you’ve overdosed on an anti-anxiety medication. If you start to experience these symptoms, contact a medical provider or call 911 right away.
Depression and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Depression often occurs with OCD, which is why part of the treatment plan involves psychotherapy. Most of the anti-anxiety medications used to treat OCD are suitable for treating depression as well. Your doctor might also prescribe a separate set of antidepressants to take with your OCD medications depending on your particular situation.
Dual Diagnosis: Addiction and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Aside from depression, there are other conditions that a person with OCD can have. These conditions differ in every individual with OCD because the behavior each sufferer displays is different. For example, if you are obsessed with the thought of being thin, you may develop anorexia or bulimia, and your doctor may diagnose you with both OCD and one of these ailments. Treatment on OCD should focus on both issues in order to be successful.
Getting Help for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
No matter how severe your situation may seem, you can get help to treat your OCD. Getting help will allow you or your loved one to dramatically improve the quality of life you live. Put yourself on the right path to getting the assistance you need for OCD.