Many people find it surprising that Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, is a more commonly diagnosed psychiatric disease than Panic Disorder, Schizophrenia, or Bipolar Disorder. Over 3 million people in the United States have this Anxiety Disorder, and researchers suspect that less than 10 percent of those persons are presently under the supervision and care of the medical community.
What is OCD?
OCD is a Psychological Disorder that causes patients to experience repetitive thoughts (obsessions) that cause them to take repeated actions (compulsions) that they believe will counteract, reverse, or counterbalance the distress cause by the thoughts. Without these ritualistic behaviors, people with OCD may feel unable to obtain relief from their obsessive thoughts.
Symptoms of OCD
The symptoms of OCD may begin anywhere between the ages of 6 and 15 in boys; young girls usually begin to exhibit signs of OCD much later, between age 20 and age 29. Almost everyone who develops OCD begins to show symptoms before the age of 40. The following are some of the most obvious clues that a person may be struggling with OCD:
- Unusual obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors that are unrelated to any known causes
- Repetitive, intrusive behaviors over which the patient has lost control
- Compulsive behaviors involving order, cleanliness, hoarding, or spending
- Obsessive thoughts concerning sex, religion, morality, cleanliness versus contamination, or superstitions
- Random, ritualistic behaviors such as repetitive counting, questioning, reciting, touching, or list making
People with OCD usually recognize that their thoughts and actions are abnormal although many will try to hide their symptoms from those around them. When the need to continually perform any behavior interferes with forming healthy relationships or living up to his or her social and occupational responsibilities, it is time to seek help from those knowledgeable in the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Causes of OCD
Although researchers have labored to identify a cause for OCD, they still have no conclusive evidence that points to a specific causative factor. Some studies have indicated a link between brain injuries and OCD; others seem to show that this disorder may occur often after a serious infection with by the bacteria that causes strep throat. Research concentrating on abnormalities within the brain has shown promise, but so far no definitive results have been documented. Researchers also assume there is a connection between OCD and Tourette Syndrome, because 20 percent of the patient’s diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder exhibit the same type of tics found in the Tourette Syndrome population. Researchers have also found that any type of serious physical illness, emotional stress, or exhaustion tends to exacerbate the symptoms of this disorder, but they have not been able to show that these factors actually cause OCD.
Subtypes of OCD
Four different classifications have been labeled for identification purposes. These are based on the symptoms exhibited by the patient, and some of these subtypes have been divided into even smaller groupings. They are as follows:
The repetitive compulsions in this subtype center around cleanliness. Patients fear that they have been contaminated in some way and make recurrent efforts to wash away non-existent dirt or germs. People in the contamination/washing subset can be further divided into two groups: those in the first group do not feel there is any danger to themselves or other people while those in the second group fear that their contamination will prove harmful to themselves or to people around them. Some even feel that they may spread germs or infection to their friends and families.
People with this subtype of OCD spend vast amounts of time checking their actions to insure that they have not done something that will cause catastrophic consequences. This may mean that they return to check the lock on a door 20 times to insure that they have secured their home. This type of behavior can go so far that the ritualistic behaviors concern events that never happened. For example, people in this subtype may check the closets repeatedly to make sure that they have not accidentally locked their child into one. These thoughts and behaviors ultimately lead to anxiety that is constant and difficult to control.
This subset includes obsessions about religious rituals, sexual themes, and fears of being harmed in some way. To cope with these feelings and the resulting anxiety, people often pray continuously or count in patterns. In this subset, feelings of guilt and shame can dominate a person’s thoughts until they feel overwhelmed and are unable to cope except through compulsive actions.
Hoarding involves an inability to dispose of collections of items that seem insignificant to other people. Hoarding can become completely disabling as those who suffer from it become so emotionally attached to items that they actually become depressed at the thought of losing them.
Treatment Options for OCD
OCD is much easier to treat if it is diagnosed before the compulsive behaviors have become ingrained into a person’s daily life. Some people with OCD actually have symptoms that become milder through the years, but many experience even stronger symptoms as time goes by. These can become so pervasive that they take away any hint of normalcy and leave these obsessed people struggling just to function each day. Four different methods of treatment have been used to provide relief for people battling OCD. These treatments may be used alone or in combination as the doctor works to get the best results.
Pharmacological Management: Some drugs that have been found to ameliorate the symptoms of OCD include Paroxetine, Sertraline, Citalopram, Fluvoxamine, and Fluoxetine. These all work by increasing the brain’s ability to use serotonin. Doctors also prescribe tricyclic antidepressants for some OCD patients, such as clomipramine, however these often appear to have more side effects than the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s).
Therapeutic Management: Researchers have found Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to be the most effective in treating OCD. Through exposure to the activities and objects of their fears using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, doctors can help people with OCD gradually learn to deal with the anxiety being generated in the brain. In time, these patients will learn to control the strong urges that compel their repetitive behaviors. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy can lead patients to find effective ways to control their stress and help them calm the conflict taking place in their brain. This ultimately leads them to feel much less anxiety. Patients with supportive families might also consider including the family in the therapy so that every member can become a part of the recovery process.
Self-Help: Although people with OCD need to seek medical attention as soon as they recognize a problem, there are some behaviors and activities that may move them more quickly toward recovery. These include consistently performing positive behaviors that take your focus off of the harmful compulsions. For example, spend time exercising, practicing an instrument, sewing, knitting, or listening to music. Keeping a journal or a log of compulsive thoughts is also enlightening to some with OCD and may help defuse some of your repetitive thinking and actions. Some people with this disorder also find that relaxation techniques, such as yoga or deep breathing, make a difference in their ability to control the anxiety produced by their compulsive behaviors.
Surgery: This option is rarely used as an OCD treatment, but when OCD does not respond to any of the other treatment options available and leaves the patient completely debilitated, doctors do use this option. Surgeries performed to give relief from severe OCD include an anterior cingulotomy, a capsulotomy, and a limbic leucotomy. Surgeons also have the option of implanting electrical devices to stimulate parts of the brain in an attempt to ease the patient’s OCD symptoms.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder FAQ
It can be a little frightening to receive a diagnosis of OCD, and patients usually have a great number of questions. The following are three that doctors receive most often:
Can OCD be cured?
Although people with OCD will notice periods of increasing and decreasing symptoms through the years, doctors have yet to find a complete, long-term cure. This is the reason they work toward symptom management so that patients find ways to deal with their compulsions that allow them to interact normally and go on with their daily lives with few interruptions.
Are there any long-term consequences of OCD?
While OCD does not seem to lead to other mental health disorders, in some cases, it can lead to physical health concerns. For example, excessively washing the hands because of a fear of germs can eventually cause the skin to break down or sores to develop.
What types of tests are needed to diagnose OCD?
Doctors will begin with a physical examination to ensure that the OCD symptoms are not cause by any physiological causes.
What did I do to cause OCD?
Researchers know that many factors play a role in the development of OCD and none of them are under the conscious control of the patient. While a healthy lifestyle, exercise, and a calm day-to-day routine may help control symptoms of OCD, the lack of these does not cause the disorder. Researchers are beginning to find proof that OCD is connected to genetics in some manner, but they have yet to pinpoint the specific genes contributing to the problem.
Why Choose Bridges to Recovery for Residential Treatment
The good news for those with OCD is that the caring, experienced physicians, therapists, and staff at Bridges to Recovery are waiting to help them begin the road back to good mental health. Bridges to Recovery’s Residential OCD Treatment Centers have had outstanding success in helping patients understand their obsessive thoughts and modify their compulsive actions. Research has shown that some patients respond better in residential treatment programs like those at Bridges to Recovery because this allows them the time away from other distractions to focus on their own health needs.
With two California locations in Holmby Hills and Pacific Palisades, OCD patients can receive treatment onsite without ever being far from their families. The highly trained doctors at Bridges to Recovery use individualized treatment plans in order to treat the whole person, not just this disabling health problem. They strive to help patients reach the point of being able to return to their jobs and families without the constant distractions of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.