7 Things to Know About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

By Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.

For people who don’t have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), it can be very difficult for them to understand the condition. If you don’t have the condition, you may be thinking “just stop” when you see them repeatedly doing something. But, for the person with OCD, it’s not that simple.

Here’s what you need to know about the condition to better understand it.

It is an Anxiety Disorder

OCD typically makes people struggling with it feel “trapped” in repetitive thoughts and behavioral rituals. It’s considered a lifelong disorder and it can be so severe and time consuming that it becomes disabling.

It is a lot Different than Being a Perfectionist

OCD thoughts are much more than excessive worries about life problems like keeping your house clean and orderly. Wanting to keep your home and life in complete order doesn’t necessarily mean you have OCD.

The biggest difference between being a perfectionist and OCD are the symptoms – people with the disorder experience obsessions and compulsions.

Obsessions Often Cause Distress or Anxiety

OCD obsessions are intrusive, irrational thoughts, impulses or urges that occur repeatedly. These obsessions typically intrude when you’re trying to think of or do other things. They often have themes like a fear of contamination or dirt, having things orderly and symmetrical, or unpleasant thoughts or images. They may also experience fears of saying or shouting inappropriate things in public or have doubts about having done something right, like locking a door or turning off the stove.

These obsessions often produce a high degree of anxiety.

Compulsions Are Often Performed to Get Rid of Obsessions

These repetitive acts tend to temporarily relieve the stress brought on by an obsession. Although people with OCD know their rituals don’t make sense, they still feel that they must perform them.

Similar to obsessions, people with OCD may try to not perform compulsive acts, but they feel forced to do so to relieve their anxiety. Common compulsions include washing and cleaning, counting, checking, following a strict routine, orderliness, and asking for reassurances.

Often times, people with OCD will compulsively wash their hands due to a fear of germs. They may count and recount money because they aren’t sure they added correctly. They may also compulsively check to see if a door is locked or appliances are off.

Stress Can Make Symptoms Worse

Symptoms of OCD typically begin gradually and have a tendency to vary in severity throughout life. It’s common for symptoms to get worse when you’re experiencing more stress.

There Are Criteria You Have to Meet to be Diagnosed

In order to get a formal OCD diagnosis, you need to meet the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

General criteria to be diagnosed with OCD include:

  • Having either obsessions or compulsions, or both
  • Obsessions and compulsions are significantly time consuming and interfere with your daily routine, work or social interactions
  • May or may not realize obsessions and compulsions are excessive or unreasonable

Treatment Can Help Get the Disorder Under Control

OCD doesn’t go away on its own, which is why treatment is so important. Although treatment may not cure OCD, it can help get symptoms under control so they’re not interfering with your daily life.

Treatment typically includes behavioral therapy, medication or a combination of both. Cognitive behavioral therapy aims to teach people with OCD how to confront their fears and reduce anxiety without performing ritual behaviors. It is also designed to help reduce the exaggerated or catastrophic thinking that people with OCD often have.

Certain medications can help control obsessions and compulsions, particularly antidepressants.

About the Author

Kevin P. Caputo, M.D.

Dr. Caputo believes a trusting, open relationship is important to facilitate the healing process. He feels it is important for patients to be educated in order to create the best outcome.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Caputo, please call 610-874-5257.

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