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More Than Just Being Fussy: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

A worried woman who is obsess with cleanliness checking her nails / Photo by 123rf.com

 

According to Health Navigator New Zealand, 2 percent of the world's population has significant Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD. Studies reveal that is common in both men and women. However, its symptoms may appear later in females. Five to ten percent of those affected reported that there were periods where they could feel well in-between. 

It is the purpose of this analysis to impart the real meaning of OCD, to expose the truth behind the common myths about it, reveal its causes and symptoms, as well as recommend remedies for it.

 

What is OCD?

How is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder defined?

Health Navigator New Zealand and the National Institute of Mental Health say that it is a common, chronic, and lasting disorder or condition where a person has obsessional, uncontrollable thoughts and performs compulsive and repetitive actions. It also sometimes identified as the disorder of checking and doubting.

Healthyplace.com states that it usually begins in one’s early childhood or adolescent years. Most people receive their OCD diagnosis at 19.

 

 

Common Misconceptions

The most popular notions of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder are the following:

- Myth: Having OCD means the person is just being fussy or careful

Truth: It feels unpleasant to them and is actually unhelpful. They feel no satisfaction or pleasure from repeated actions or rituals, especially since it is time-consuming and is often unnecessary.

They are doing these actions not because they are careful or picky, but rather because they are plagued by their anxiety.

- Myth: OCD equates to being a perfectionist or someone with an obsessional personality

Truth: Although people with obsessional personalities or perfectionistic tendencies may also check and be more careful than the average person, they do this to attain their high standards.

Obsessive compulsives, on the other hand, do repeated actions not to attain the standard of perfection but to reduce their anxiety.

Additionally, perfectionists often like their high standards, while people with OCD despise their inclination to keep checking if they have done something exactly right and get anxious about it.

Sufferers of OCD do not enjoy their obsessions and compulsions. Also, they are noted to not have any obsessional personalities to begin with.

 

Causes

Until now, the exact reason for having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is unknown.

However, based on their observations and theories, some experts say that it can be caused by:

1. The malfunctioning of the basal ganglia of the brain.

The basal ganglia is a part of the middle of the brain that is an area of nerve cells. It said to be responsible for starting and stopping thoughts and actions, as well as responding to new information.

If the basal ganglia is not working properly, then a person will most likely have a difficult  time stopping what they are thinking and doing.

2. Obsessional thoughts that persist because a person cannot stop or ignore, according to a theory of Cognitive Behavior psychology.

This means that every time the compulsion is repeated, it gets harder to resist. One example is excessive cleaning due to fearing that their house may become contaminated.

3. Stress

Some obsessive-compulsives have reported that they think that it was brought about by stress and other areas in life that went wrong.

4. Anxiety

Anxiety’s initial function is to be a warning system for the brain. It tells the brain that something is wrong and that there is an impending danger.

However, this anxious emotion makes a person become more defensive since it tells them to react and do something to protect themselves.

In connection with this, people with OCD do their redundant actions to protect themselves from their repetitive negative thoughts.

The person suffering from this may realize that their fear prompted by the thought or image is unreasonable, but they still feel it is real and intense.

5. Traumatic experience

If an individual has been through physical or sexual abuse, they also have the risk of having OCD.

6. Genetic or biological reasons

If a person has first degree relatives (like a child, parent or sibling) who have a history of suffering from OCD, they have a higher probability of acquiring it.

 

Main Symptoms

The main signs of suffering from OCD are obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are repetitive and unwanted thoughts, images, and impulses that cause anxiety and are difficult to stop and control.

Most common obsessions include:

- Fear of being contaminated by germs and getting harmful substances on themselves

- Fear of harming oneself or others (For example, accidentally starting a fire)

- Unwanted sexual thoughts

- Unwanted religious thoughts

- Need for symmetry and exactness

Compulsions, meanwhile, are repeated actions or behavior which a person feels compelled to act upon even if they are unnecessary or do not make sense.

Acting on their compulsion relieves the distress and anxiety caused by their obsessions for a while, but then the anxiety comes back after some time.

Doing the compulsion will have less effect on their anxiety by making them want to engage in more compulsive behavior in an attempt to control the rising level of anxiety.

Most common compulsions include:

- Ritual hand washing

- Excessive cleaning

- Ordering and arranging objects

- Repetitive activities (For instance, walking into and out of the door)

- Counting

- Hoarding

- Mental Rituals

 

Other Related Symptoms

Other signs that an individual is suffering from this include:

- Trying to suppress thoughts, impulses or images with other thoughts or actions

- Disturbed sleep

- Depression

- Wanting to commit suicide

- Anxiety and panic attacks

- Addiction to drugs and alcohol which they use to cope with anxiety

- Tics or sudden involuntary movement

- Unusual or repulsive images which can be about sex, religion, violence or even suicide

- The urge to keep checking if things have been done correctly (For example, constantly checking if the stove has been turned off more than ten times for the past two hours)

 

Kinds of Tics

In relation to the tics which are part of the symptoms, they are segregated into two categories. These are motor tics which are sudden repetitive movements and vocal tics.

Some of the motor tics an obsessive-compulsive person can have are:

- Eye-blinking and other eye movements

- Facial grimacing

- Shoulder shrugging

- Head or shoulder jerking

On the other hand, the vocal tics they are prone to having are:

- Throat clearing

- Sniffing

- Grunting sounds

 

Treatment

In order to be able to treat one’s Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, they should consult a general practitioner. They are advised to seek help from a psychologist. If the case is too severe, then they may need the assistance of a psychiatrist. It is also recommended that they take medication and subject themselves to therapy.

Since OCD is a long-term illness, it may also take a long time for OCD sufferers to be able to recover from it.

 

Therapy

A few of the suggested therapies for OCD are psychotherapy or deep brain stimulation. For psychotherapy, the patient will go through either Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) like Exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP) or habit reversal training.

 

Medication

The medicines they are advised to take include some types of antidepressants such as the Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SRIs) and the Selected Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs).

These medicines may help lessen OCD symptoms:

- Clomipramine

- Fluoxetine

- Sertraline

If the symptoms still manifest, they may resort to antipsychotic medicine like risperidone.

In summary, having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is the result of a person using their compulsions (constantly repeated behaviors) as a coping mechanism for their obsessions (constant repeated negative thoughts).  If they desire to eradicate their need to act on their compulsions, they must address it as soon as possible so that it does not obstruct them from the more important things in life.

 

A depress woman wanting to commit suicide / Photo by 123rf.com

 

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