What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental illness in which patients obsess over parts of life that others don’t think twice about. OCD is also a type of anxiety disorder, so patients often feel nervous about the things they obsess over. OCD can cause people to have outsized fears of germs, feel compelled to repeat small tasks, or develop tics. Obsessions in people with OCD keep them from living their normal lives.


Myths About OCD

People often use the term “OCD” to describe people who are particularly cleanly or well-organized. Unfortunately, this casual use of the term undermines the real stress that people with OCD experience. This stigma can keep people from getting the help they need.

As such, it’s important for people to understand the differences between OCD and general tidiness. Someone can genuinely enjoy cleaning or staying organizing without having OCD. The main difference is the anxiety that people with OCD feel and how their obsessions interfere with their lives.


OCD Diagnostic Criteria

As with other mental illnesses, to qualify for an OCD diagnosis, people must meet the standards that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lays out.

The DSM says that people with OCD must obsess over something or repeat compulsions for at least one hour per day before it becomes a disorder. Furthermore, people with OCD must feel distress regarding the obsessions and compulsions. Often, patients believe that if they do not repeat their actions, something terrible will happen.


Examples of Obsessive Thoughts and Compulsion

Obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors are the two main pillars of OCD. People with this disorder have obsessive thoughts about things that other people hardly think about. For example, someone with OCD may constantly think about all the micro-organisms in their world.

Obsessive thoughts lead to compulsions. In the germ example, someone who thinks a lot about micro-organisms may feel the strong urge to wipe down every surface in their home at least three times. Compulsions can also be about smaller things, such as turning the light on and off exactly five times before going to bed.

The distinguishing characteristic of compulsions is that patients feel absolutely compelled to complete them. OCD convinces patients that if they do not complete their compulsions immediately, a tragedy will occur.


Other OCD Symptoms

  • Panic attacks
  • Ritualistic behaviors
  • Avoiding specific situations related to the compulsions
  • Frequent nightmares
  • Guilt about the compulsions
  • Hoarding

OCD Treatment

The treatment options that work for one patient with OCD may not help another. Patients can choose between several methods, including:

  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Group Therapy
  • Medication

People with OCD often need a combination of treatments to heal. For example, someone may attend group therapy sessions and take prescription medication. Most patients with OCD need some type of medication. Available prescriptions for OCD include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

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