OCD FAQ: Answering your questions about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Do you wash your hands often? Are you obsessed with arranging your cabinet? Do you double-check your door-locks, when leaving home? If this is so, you might have heard people telling you that you’re OCD. Right?

OCD or obsessive-compulsive disorder has become a very common term nowadays. It is tossed around quite casually these days and has made it into our popular language. It is generally described as a condition where a person is a little more focused on getting things done just right!

Well, this is not the case always. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a little more than arranging your closet, checking the locks, and washing your hands a lot. It is a specific, psychiatric disorder that causes a person to experience obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are reoccurring thoughts and compulsions are its consequent behaviors.

The four major dimensions of OCD are;

  • Contamination
  • Perfection
  • Doubt/harm
  • Forbidden thoughts

Almost 2% of the worldwide population is suffering from OCD. It is reported in both adults and children. Women are at a little higher risk of developing OCD than men. 

Today we’re going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is to clear the common doubts about the disease and give our readers a comprehensive overview of the disorder.       

How much do you know about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?  Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash
How much do you know about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? Photo by Daniele Franchi on Unsplash

Q1: What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a neuropsychiatric condition characterized by repeated unwanted thoughts and consequent irrational actions. These thoughts and behaviors aren’t logical but the patient cannot help them. These upsetting thoughts or impulses are called obsessions. They occur repeatedly and can’t be ignored or suppressed.

The anxiety associated with these obsessions engages the patient in repetitive acts that tend to relieve their stress. These actions are called compulsions. The patient carries them out to decrease the distress and anxiety related to the trigger thought. Over time, the thoughts and actions adopt a regular pattern of occurrence and the patient is declared to be suffering from OCD.

Two of the most common examples of OCD are;

  1. Repetitive handwashing
  2. Repeated checking on loved ones to ensure that they are safe

In the case of handwashing, the person experiences thoughts like their hand are contaminated and that they’ll catch germs which makes them anxious, and to release that anxiety they start washing their hands. The perceived trigger (obsession) is contamination and the consequent action (compulsion) is handwashing. In the other case, the patient repeatedly thinks that something terrible will happen and keeps on checking his/her loved ones for if they are safe or not.

Q2: What Causes OCD?

There is no exclusive factor that triggers the onset of OCD. Thus, no exact cause is known yet. Researchers believe that multiple reasons might cause OCD. For instance, genetics play a significant role in the likelihood of the disorder. If your parents have/had OCD, there are almost 25% chances that you or your siblings might develop it.

Moreover, in around 1 out of 3 cases, stressful events can account for the onset of OCD. Many scientific studies show that the imbalance of serotonin in the brain may serve as a potential cause of the disorder as well. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is used by some nerve cells for effective communication. When your brain or certain parts of your brain don’t respond to serotonin properly, it might upsurge the chance of OCD occurrence. Such kind of chemical changes in the brain contribute to the disease the most.

In some cases, overprotective parents increase the risk of OCD development among their children. They learn compulsive behavior from their parents, imitate them, and become habitual. In very few but some instances, streptococcal infection serves as the cause of OCD. This situation is reported especially among children who have a genetic history of the disease.  

Q3: How Common is OCD? Is it a Serious Condition?

Statistical estimates suggest that almost one in 50 people develop OCD. The symptoms of the condition normally start during the teenage, a few seek help in time but many don’t. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 2.2 million people from America have the disorder and the disease is being reported equally among men and women.

According to a study conducted at Concordia University, Canada almost 94% of the population experiences intrusive and unwanted thoughts during their life which means we all have a little bit of OCD. However, the disorder worsens in some people with age.

The severity of the symptoms fluctuate with time and significantly impact the quality of your life. It interferes with your relationships and responsibilities and makes it a little harder to carry out everyday tasks. Your obsessions and compulsions consume your mind a lot and you start missing out on the important stuff.

You cannot get your things done on time, your relationships with your loved ones are troubled, you experience shame and self-blame, you might experience suicidal or self-harm thoughts, etc. Therefore, it is necessary to recognize the symptoms of the condition at their earliest and start a proper treatment to avoid serious circumstances.    

Q4: What are Some Examples of Obsessions?

Obsessive thoughts can be of any type and subject but they generally include five categories;

  • Relationships
  • Sexual thoughts
  • Hygiene thoughts 
  • Religious thoughts
  • Violent thoughts

Some of the typical obsessions include;

  • Fear of getting contaminated and catching germs from the environment 
  • Repetitive thoughts about sex and intimacy
  • Fear of uttering vulgarities and insults
  • Extreme concern for arranging things in precise order or symmetry
  • Recurrent thoughts about some sounds and images
  • Fear of discarding some important stuff
  • Fear of your partner cheating on you

These thoughts trigger anxiety and stress and most of the time are illogical and far from reality. They cannot be resolved with logic and reasoning and the patient finds compulsions to be the only way to ease the decision.  

Q5: What are Some Examples of Compulsions?

The major categories of compulsions include checking, cleanliness, hoarding, orderliness, symmetrical settings, etc.

Typical compulsions include;

  • Excessive hand washing, showering, brushing, etc.
  • Repeated cleaning of the objects
  • Ordering things again and again
  • Double-and-triple checking of locks and switches
  • Constantly asking for reassurance or approval
  • Repeated checking on your partner

These actions are recurrent like your thoughts. You might feel a reduction in your anxiety and distress after you’ve responded to your obsession. Sometimes the compulsions are so repeated that it fills your day and you cannot carry out a normal routine.

Q6: Do Obsessions Always Come with Compulsions?

In most of cases, obsessions are followed by compulsions. Most people exhibit both obsessions and compulsions. However, many research studies report that as many as 20% have obsessions only and 10% have compulsions only. When one of these two is missing, the disorder is either pure O or pure C. 

Q7: What Treatment Options are Available?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be treated in three ways;

  1. Medicines
  2. Psychotherapy
  3. Self-help  

Medicines to treat OCD mostly include antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and tricyclic antidepressants. Almost 60% of the patients who try medicines experience a significant reduction in their symptoms however majority of them experience a relapse when medication is stopped.

As far as psychotherapies are concerned, talk-therapy or psychological counseling works great for OCD patients. Moreover, people who undergo cognitive behavior therapy show great improvement in their symptoms but there are chances of relapse as well.    

Self-help techniques are important for a speedy recovery. Many self-help books and programs are available on the internet which helps you learn how to tackle your obsessions and control your compulsive behaviors. Some of the common self-help techniques include;

  1. Talking to a reliable friend or family member
  2. Adopting a healthy diet especially eating brain-boosting foods
  3. Making a regular exercise schedule
  4. Practicing yoga and meditation
  5. Watching and reading motivational content
  6. Writing your thoughts and worries
  7. Try to divert your mind from stress and intrusive thoughts towards recreational activities
  8. Try to delay your compulsive behavior by engaging yourself in something you love to do
  9. Set aside some time for yourself and practice relaxation techniques during it

Conclusion

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a common and severe mental illness. It is characterized by waves of disturbing thoughts and consequent behavior. The patient feels anxious and distressed which is likely to make them frustrated and irritable. OCD can interfere with the personal, professional, and social life of a person and thus require an early diagnosis and proper treatment.

If you or anyone near you is suffering from OCD, this FAQ-article can help you clear your major doubts about the disorder. You must consult a certified psychiatrist as soon as possible. Get yourself checked and start with the treatment. Medication often comes with some side effects therefore we recommend you undergo therapy and practice self-care. Remember it is your brain and you can train it anyway. Don’t let it consume over anything and make it work for your good.