Demystifying OCD: Signs, Tests and Treatments
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) causes unreasonable fears and thoughts that lead to compulsive behaviors, and OCD statistics reveal that nearly 3.3 million Americans suffer from the disorder. Understanding OCD symptoms is one of the keys to treating the disorder and helping patients lead healthier, happier lives.
An OCD definition always includes anxiety and mention of repeated, intrusive thoughts, ideas, feelings and sensations that make people diagnosed with the disorder feel compelled to fulfill behaviors.
Compulsions and obsessions are hallmarks of OCD, but some people with the disorder only experience one aspect of symptoms.
Obsessive symptoms may include the following:
- Repeated, unwanted and persistent images or urges that lead to anxiety and distress.
- Fear of contamination.
- An intense need for symmetry and organization.
- Persistent and aggressive thoughts of self-harm or harming others.
- Unwanted thoughts, often regarding sexual, violent or religious themes.
Compulsion symptoms are behaviors that people with OCD feel driven to complete. These behaviors are often viewed as a way to alleviate anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts, but engaging in them brings only temporary relief.
Compulsions may include the following behaviors:
- Cleaning and washing, even after surfaces are clearly clean and free of germs.
- Repeated checking of appliances to ensure they are off or that doors are locked.
- Following a strict, inflexible routine and experiencing severe anxiety when that routine is interrupted.
- Demanding reassurances.
- Frequent counting, often in patterns.
Perfectionism is often confused with OCD, but symptoms of the disorder are far more severe than perfectionist tendencies. While many people, for example, like to keep their kitchen floors clean, a person with OCD may repeatedly feel a compulsion to continue cleaning them multiple times a day in order to relieve anxiety about germ contamination.
OCD is diagnosed according to the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Although there is no “OCD test,” people with disorder must meet the general criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association to be diagnosed, and this criteria is based on the frequency and severity of the aforementioned symptoms.
OCD Treatment Options
The two most common OCD treatment options are psychotherapy and medications. Through psychotherapy, patients learn to cope with their feared obsessions or objects in healthier ways. Although this process may take time, many patients enjoy a better quality of life once their obsessions and compulsions are managed.
OCD medications can also help reduce compulsions and obsessions. Antidepressants may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms, and many patients take a combination of medications to achieve their treatment goals.