Most people will check to make sure theyÔÇÖve turned off the
stove after cooking or turned off the lights when leaving the house. While the impulse to check things is a
typical human condition, people with OCD feel the need to check things
repeatedly or engage in routine and ritual behavior. OCD stands for obsessive-compulsive disorder, and both an
obsession (a thought) and a compulsion (and action) must be present for this
diagnosis. People with OCD have
difficulty controlling these behaviors.
Obsessions often stem from fears, such as an extreme fear of
germs. To combat this fear, people
with obsessive-compulsive disorder feel the need to repeatedly wash their hands. Other common compulsions include
locking and unlocking doors, counting, hoarding, or repeating a pattern of
steps. Often when patterns are
interrupted, people with OCD feel a need to start again at the beginning of the
routine. These thoughts and
behaviors are unwanted, but people cannot control them.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder causes anxiety from the
unwanted thoughts. The compulsive
behavior is a way for a person with OCD to get rid of this anxiety, at least
for a period of time. People with
obsessive-compulsive disorder often spend an hour or more each day
participating in their rituals, which can interfere significantly with daily
Obsessive-compulsive disorder has many possible causes, from
a psychological problem to a biological problem within the brain. People with OCD often have less white
matter in their brains, and the connections within their brains might be
different than in a typical brain.
Many scientists compare the brain activity to a light switch -- instead
of the switch turning off after a person checks on something, the switch in a
person with OCD stays on, and the person feels compelled to perform actions
over and over. Much research has
also shown a genetic component to OCD.
OCD also tends to be comorbid with disorders such as
anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, autism, ADHD, and
Obsessive-compulsive disorder can start anytime from preschool-age to
adulthood. It typically develops
between ages 8 and 12 or between the late teenage to early adulthood years.
OCD is treated with a combination of psychotherapy and
medication. Medications include
anti-depressants and anti-anxiety treatments, which help to reduce the anxiety
people feel about their obsessions.
Cognitive behavior therapy teaches new ways of thinking and behaving,
and this method has proved effective for individuals with obsessive-compulsive
disorder. This method can also include
exposure and response therapy, in which individuals are exposed to their fear
or anxiety-provoking stimuli, and they are taught ways to better deal with the
feelings of anxiety. Eventually,
people who go through exposure and response therapy no longer feel anxious when
exposed to the stimuli.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder cannot be prevented, and it is
often a chronic condition.
However, through the possible treatments, symptoms and interference with
life can be greatly reduced.
Photo by SCA Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget