Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where you will have recurring and intrusive ideas, impulses or obsessions. These can cause compulsive behaviours in an effort to reduce the anxiety associated with these obsessions. The majority of people with OCD have both obsessions and compulsions. And obsessions can be based on any number of things such as leaving appliances on at home or a fear of being contaminated with a disease. The behaviours these induce are often senseless, repetitive and sometimes harmful. They are difficult to overcome and cause a great deal of stress to the sufferer.
As mentioned above OCD usually drives the sufferer to carry out tasks (compulsions) in order to relieve the anxiety they experience because of their obsessions. To others these tasks will seem unnecessary or odd but to the sufferer they will feel vitally important. These tasks usually have rigid rules which have to be performed exactly in order to prevent dire consequences, for example being afraid of disease and spending hours thoroughly cleaning surfaces in order to stop germs. Performing the task will make the sufferer feel relief from their compulsion however this won’t last long. In addition the person experiencing OCD often feels guilty about their obsessions making such thoughts more likely to return. Physical symptoms may accompany these behaviours including tics, tremors or other involuntary movements.
The usual treatment for OCD is a combination of behavioural and cognitive therapy coupled with medications. The most common therapeutic technique used is called exposure and ritual prevention or ERP. This technique conditions the sufferer to gradually tolerate the anxiety which comes from not performing the ritual behaviour. This usually involves exposing the sufferer to something which generates a small amount of anxiety and slowly building up resistance until no anxiety at all is caused. Common medications used to treat OCD include SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) which prevent excess serotonin from being pumped back into the brain. These are often coupled with antidepressants to help reduce anxiety and obsessive thoughts.
Although the exact causes of OCD are not clear research has found several factors which can contribute to the chances of developing the condition. From a genetics standpoint, it’s been noted that the chance of developing OCD is higher when you have a close relative with the condition. An imbalance in neurotransmitters, which are chemicals produced by the brain such as serotonin, has also been noted in many OCD sufferers. This is thought to be why SSRI’s are effective in treating the condition.