What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is also called OCD. It's a mental illness. It causes people to either have obsessive thoughts or compulsive habits that they think about or do constantly. They don't enjoy it. They feel like they can't stop. Although it's common, this behavior can impact your life. It can damage your relationships, school or career if you don't get treatment. This condition can affect people of every race, gender or age. Approximately 1.2% of Americans have this condition.

Causes of OCD

Doctors and researchers don't know the exact cause of OCD yet. They believe a combination of factors might influence whether or not a person has it. If you have OCD, your brain may work a different way that other people's. Your OCD might also be a result of genetics and something in your environment triggering the disorder to start.

Risk factors for OCD

Studies are underway to better understand why some people have OCD and some don't. There's a lot to learn about what causes the condition. You may be at greater risk for OCD if you have a close relative with the disease. Also, if you were abused as a child, you might be at greater risk for developing OCD. There's also a specific kind of OCD that may be linked to certain infections children get. It's called PANDAS.

Symptoms of OCD

People with OCD usually know that their behavior and thoughts aren't logical. They just don't have the ability to stop doing or thinking them. The kind of obsession or compulsive behaviors vary with each person. It might focus on organization, cleanliness, bodily functions, safety or counting things.

Other symptoms of OCD include:

  • Unwanted routines that take up more than an hour of your day
  • Repetition of words or names to guard against harm
  • Washing hands or checking the stove over and over
  • Repeated focus on sexual or religious thoughts
  • Physical or verbal tics

Diagnosis of OCD

The first step in diagnosing OCD is for your doctor to order a physical exam. They might also check your bloodwork with tests. This helps them make sure that another health condition isn't causing your symptoms. Your doctor will likely talk with you about your habits and thought patterns. This helps determine if they're impacting your life for more than an hour every day. You may also talk with a psychologist or psychiatrist for a final diagnosis. These mental health professionals understand the symptoms you need to have in order to be diagnosed.

Treatments for OCD

There's no cure for OCD. It's possible to reduce your symptoms and regain control of your life. Often, treatment involves a mixture of medication and talk therapy with a trained mental health professional. Sometimes, people with OCD also have other disorders. Doctors consider your entire situation before making a treatment plan that's tailored to your unique situation.

Medication such as antidepressant or antipsychotic medicine can be helpful for some people. Other medications can regulate the chemicals in your brain. Doctors often prescribe these for OCD. Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is also often recommended. You can talk to your therapist about your experiences and behaviors. They can teach you techniques that lessen your need to give in to compulsions. It's a way to reverse habits and reduce behaviors that seem unstoppable.

If your doctor prescribes medication for you, be sure to talk with them before stopping it. By stopping your medication suddenly, it's possible that your symptoms might get worse. If you have side effects or have concerns, talk to your doctor immediately.

Recovery from OCD

Treatment works best if you follow the instructions from your doctor. Take your medication as prescribed. Work closely with your therapist. Some people report anxiety while having treatment. Ask for support from loved ones and your therapist as you begin your treatment. Follow a healthy diet and get exercise, too. Also, you can try relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation to help keep your symptoms in check.