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Understanding Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

An Overview of the Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Many times, we double-check to ensure that we have done something, for example, packed needed items, unplugged the iron box, or even locked all doors. However, there would be a problem if we kept checking the same thing over and over again, to a point where the behavior interferes with our daily activities. This behavior is characteristic of people with OCD.

What is OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder)?

OCD is an anxiety disorder where negative emotions like apprehension, fear, worry or uneasiness created by intrusive thoughts cause repetitive behavior aimed at reducing anxiety. Intrusive thoughts are referred to as obsessions. The behavior that is repetitive is referred to as compulsions. If you have obsessions, compulsions or both, you are said to have OCD.

A person with OCD may never realize that the obsessions are unreasonable, and they put in a lot of effort so as to stop them. Unfortunately, these efforts increase anxiety. Compulsive behavior is usually an attempt to ease the anxiety. OCD is centered on themes, for instance, fear of contamination from germs. One will therefore keep washing their hands- until they get sore and chapped. The person will try their best to avoid thoughts of germ contamination, but they will keep coming back making them wash their hands even more.

Symptoms of OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder)

These symptoms are time-consuming and easily take a toll on one’s personal relationships, emotions as well as finances. Obsessions will vary in clarity from individual to individual. For instance, if the obsession is vague, one could experience a sense of tension or disarray. One feels that life will not go on as smoothly as it did if there is a certain imbalance. If the obsession is intense, one could be preoccupied with thoughts of the death of someone who is close to them, for instance. They may also feel that harm will befall them, that a power beyond them could result in their harm- disease, God or even the devil. Worse still, some people could feel as if they have protrusions emanating from their bodies, or feel as if inanimate objects are ensouled. Some people may suffer from sexual obsessions. They will have thoughts like rape, incest, oral sex, sex with children, animals, or religious figures.

The aforementioned obsessions result in compulsive behavior. Some symptoms of compulsive behavior include for instance, depending on the intrusive thought, hoarding. This is where inorganic matter is treated as if it had the right to be treated as if it was organic. One could also keep checking whether the gas is off, the door is locked or keep repeating words silently. Compulsive behavior is not necessarily obvious to the OCD patient. These symptoms increase in intensity over time, as one gets older. They are worst when an individual is in a stressful situation.

Causes of OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder)

Over time, there has been speculation that OCD that began in childhood may be different from the one that began in adulthood. However, the underlying causes are the same. There are several causes of OCD. The first is serotonin, the chemical in the brain that affects aggression, appetite, pain, mood, and sleep. It is yet to be established whether it is the entire chemical itself or its components that trigger reactions in OCD patients. There is a possibility that brain receptors to which serotonin attaches to could be the cause of the disorder. Secondly, people with OCD tend to have abnormalities in their orbital cortex, basal ganglia as well as thalamus. There is a breakdown in communication among these parts of the brain.

Genetics is the third cause. If people in your family have OCD, or associated disorders like binge eating, there is a possibility that you could get OCD. Research shows that 30% of teenagers suffering from OCD come from families where the immediate members had OCD, or showed obsessive symptoms. If the disorder began in childhood, there is a lesser likelihood of transmitting the same to one’s offspring. If your brain experienced a streptococcal infection, the body would begin to destroy healthy cells, as they would be mistaken for the infected cells. The cells that will be attacked are the basal ganglia cells, which will lead to the occurrence of symptoms of OCD. However, this is a very rare occurrence. Depression is the other cause of OCD.

Sometimes, panic disorders are experienced along side OCD.

Treating OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder)

The FDA has approved a number of OCD treatment options. The most popular treatments are anti-depressants, referred to as serotonin re-uptake inhibitors. These drugs increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, however, recent studies show that antidepressants are not effective and may actually worsen anxiety. Other anti-depressants are tricyclic antidepressants. The other treatment is augmentation therapy, where more drugs are combined to ensure maximum effectiveness.

Psychological therapy reduces the frequency of occurrence, as well as intensity of the symptoms of OCD. There are 2 types of psychological therapy- CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) and ERP (exposure response prevention). It is important to note that CBT is very expensive, thus is usually offered in groups in health facilities and hospitals. There are a number of benefits of working in a group, ranging from support, motivation to encouragement. The other treatment option is ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), which is based on the fact that since anxiety is part of everyday life, it is our reaction to it that results in problems like OCD.

Unfortunately, 25 to 40% of patients do not respond to these treatments. Targeting circuits in the brain, for instance via deep brain stimulation might be the way forward; however, more research is needed. There are also ways that one can alleviate OCD symptoms like relaxation techniques, and aerobic exercise. Stress triggers OCD, thus its management will go a long way in alleviating the symptoms of the disorder.

As we can see, OCD is a disorder characterized by obsessions, compulsive behavior or both. The two can vary in intensity. There are a number of causes of the disorder, as well as treatments. All is not lost, as if one does not respond to treatments, they can manage the disorder via exercise and relaxation. Research in stimulation of circuits might also result in an ultimate solution.

• Meet the Author ➞ Scarlett Brooke


I'm a integrative medicine consultant for those searching for healthier and natural alternatives for treating illnesses. I focus on a holistic approach using remedies, herbs, supplements, exercise and relaxation techniques. Although I helped people treat many different types of illnesses, my main area of specialty is treating anxiety, depression and panic disorders.


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