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What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

free hands lathering soap and washing hands in the kitchen sink,

We all have habits and routines but for those with this problem they can get in the way of daily life says DR VASOS SILIVISTRIS

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviours (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over again.

The diagnosis of OCD has been described in medicine for at least the past 100 years. Statistics on the number of people who might have OCD range from one to two per cent of the population.

Interestingly, the frequency with which OCD occurs and the symptoms with which it presents are remarkably similar regardless of the culture of the sufferer.

The average age for the onset of OCD is 19 years. Although it often begins during childhood or the teenage years, OCD usually develops by the time the person is 30 years of age.

On average, more men are inflicted with this disorder than women.

We all have habits and routines in our daily lives, such as brushing our teeth before bed. However, for people with OCD, patterns of behaviour get in the way of their daily lives.

Most people with OCD know that their obsessions and compulsions make no sense, but they cannot ignore or stop them.


What are obsessions?

Obsessions are ideas, images and impulses that run through a person’s mind repeatedly. A person with OCD does not want to have these thoughts and finds them disturbing, but he/she cannot control them.

Sometimes these thoughts come just occasionally and are only mildly annoying, at other times a person will have obsessive thoughts all the time.


What are compulsions?

Obsessive thoughts make people who have OCD feel nervous and afraid. They try to get rid of these feelings by performing certain behaviours according to ‘rules’ that they make up for themselves.

These behaviours are called compulsions. Compulsive behaviours are sometimes also called rituals.

For example, a person who has OCD may have obsessive thoughts about germs and because of these thoughts the person may wash his or her hands repeatedly.

Performing these behaviours usually only makes the nervous feelings go away for a short time.

However, when the fear and nervousness return, the person who has OCD repeats the routine.


What are some common obsessions?

Fear of dirt and germs.

Disgust with bodily waste and fluids.

Concern with order, symmetry (balance), and exactness.

Worry that a task has been done poorly, even when the person knows this is not true.

Fear of thinking evil, sinful thoughts.

Thinking about certain sounds, images, words or numbers all the time.

Need for constant reassurance.

Fear of harming a family member or friend.


What are some common compulsions?

Cleaning and grooming, such as washing hands, showering or brushing teeth repeatedly.

Checking drawers, door locks, and appliances to be sure, they are shut, locked, or turned off.

Repeating actions, such as going in and out of a door, sitting down, getting up from a chair, or touching certain objects several times.

Ordering and arranging items in certain ways.

Counting to a certain number, over and over.

Saving newspapers, mail, or containers when they are no longer needed.

Seeking constant reassurance and approval.


Most people with OCD fall into one of the following categories:

Washers who are afraid of contamination, they usually have cleaning or hand-washing compulsions.

Checkers repeatedly checking things (oven turned off, door locked, et cetera) that they associate with harm or danger.

Doubters and sinners fear that if everything is not perfect or done just right something terrible will happen, or they will be punished.

Counters and arrangers are obsessed with order and symmetry. They may have superstitions about certain numbers, colours, or arrangements.

Hoarders fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away. They compulsively hoard things that they do not need or use.

Hoarders may also suffer from other disorders such as depression, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Compulsive buying, Kleptomania, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Skin picking, or tic disorders.


Treatment of OCD

Getting professional help is the best way to deal with OCD.

Treatment can help sufferers gain control over obsessions and stop carrying out compulsions. Effective treatment includes psychotherapy using cognitive behavioural theory (CBT) combined with anti-depressant medication that contains selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).


Dr Vasilios Silivistris (Vasos) is a psychotherapist, counselling practitioner

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