What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Obsessions are intrusive, irrational thoughts that drive a person to certain behaviors. For example, a person may become obsessed with hand hygiene and may, therefore, be driven to wash their hands continuously. While the individual may sense that this is irrational, they cannot control their desire to address the situation. Compulsions drive an individual to perform actions over and over and over again. Specific examples include hand washing, counting, checking, hoarding, or arranging. While completing these actions may give the individual a sense of relief, they provide no satisfaction. Yet, if the individual does not perform these repetitive tasks, they feel some harm will befall them.
While most people have some obsession and act compulsively occasionally, they do not suffer from OCD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder occurs when an individual experiences obsessions and compulsions for more than an hour each day, in a way that interferes with their lives.
OCD can affect anyone. People of all genders, ethnic groups and races appear to suffer from this disease. While it can affect an individual of any age group, symptoms tend to occur during the teenage years.
What causes OCD?
A large body of scientific evidence suggests that OCD results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. Psychoanalysis by itself does not seem to be effective though combinations of psychoanalysis with a regimen of medication have been shown to be an effective treatment modality. Clinical researchers have implicated certain brain regions such as the basal ganglia and frontal lobe regions of the brain that appear to be overactive in the OCD sufferer. They have also identified abnormal levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in affected patients. In layperson’s terms, something in the brain is stuck, like a broken record. OCD is a chronic disease which will not disappear on its own and requires treatment. Fortunately, effective treatments are now available which will help to dissipate the debilitating symptoms of this disease. OCD usually starts at an early age, often before adolescence. OCD tends to worsen as the person grows older, if left untreated. Scientists hope, however, that when the OCD is treated while the person is still young, the symptoms will not get worse with time.
Can OCD be effectively treated?
Yes, with medication and behavior therapy. Both affect brain chemistry, which in turn affects behavior. Medication can regulate serotonin, reducing obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.