Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is generally a disorder in which a person has overpowering, recurring thoughts and behaviors that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over. The disorder is characterized by repeated, unwanted ideas, thoughts, or obsessive sensations that make them feel the need to compulsively and repetitively complete an action. These repetitive behaviors, such as checking on things over and over, hand washing, touching things, or cleaning, can significantly interfere with an individual’s social interactions and daily activities including work and/or school.
Most people are diagnosed with OCD by age 19, but onset can occur at any time. Some people with OCD may also have been undiagnosed because they also suffer from another mental disorder, such as anxiety, depression, or body dysmorphic disorder. Diagnosis comes from analyzing a person’s symptoms and behaviors. The two hallmarks of OCD are obsessions and compulsions.
Those with OCD tend to have repetitive urges, thoughts or ideas that cause them anxiety. Common obsessive symptoms include:
- Need to have things in perfect order or symmetrical
- Fear of contamination or germs
- Excessive thoughts about sex, religion, or violence
- Aggressive impulses towards oneself or others
- Fear of losing or not having things one might need
- Extreme superstition or fear of doing something unlucky
People who suffer from OCD also have compulsions to do certain things repetitively in response to obsessive thoughts. Common compulsive symptoms include:
- Arranging and ordering things in a precise, particular manner
- Excessive handwashing and/or cleaning
- Checking things repetitively and needlessly
- Counting, tapping, or repeating words compulsively
- Obsession with religious rituals
- Hoarding: accumulating unneeded things or being unable to throw things away
While many people have rituals or habits and may on occasion double check things, someone who suffers from OCD usually can’t control their thought or behaviors, even if they realize they are extreme, will spend an hour or more on these obsessions or compulsions daily, and doesn’t get any pleasure from doing these things although they may feel a short-lived relief while performing these behaviors.
Some people with OCD may also have tic disorders, causing sudden, repetitive movements like eye-blinking, facial grimacing, shrugging, or jerking their head or shoulder. Vocal tics such as sniffing, grunting, or throat clearing may also occur.
Those who have been diagnosed with OCD can be treated with psychotherapy, medications, or both. While most people with OCD respond well with treatment, some may continue to have symptoms.
- Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)
These medications, including fluoxetine, sertraline, and fluvoxamine, may help to reduce OCD symptoms and are usually the first line of treatment.
- Antipsychotic Medication
For those who do not respond to SSRIs, some may get relief from an antipsychotic medication such as risperidone. These medications may be particularly helpful for those who also suffer from a tic disorder.
Psychotherapy may be helpful for both adults and children with OCD. Cognitive behavior therapy, habit reversal training, and other approaches may be as effective as medicine for some individuals. In other cases, a combination of medication and psychotherapy provides the greatest relief.
While people don’t get cured of OCD, they can get relief and lessen their symptoms with the proper diagnosis and medical care. If you or someone you love has symptoms of OCD, be sure to see a medical expert for help.