You wash your hands, once, twice and three times. You lay down to sleep and can’t stop thinking about the door. Is it closed or is it open? Did you turn off the stove? Is everything in perfect order? You align your clothing again and again until it feels just “right.” Of course worries are normal, memory loss is brief, and we want to make sure things are in order. However, when these actions cause upset, become a way of life or when we become obsessed, it stops being normal and turns into a pathology.

Obsessive – compulsive disorder (OCD, English acronym) is an anxiety disorder characterized by obsessions. This refers to intrusive thoughts that produce apprehension, fear, worry and compulsive behavior. This type of repetitive behavior is aimed to reduce the associated anxiety or a combination of both.  This disorder affects approximately 3, 3 million adults and approximately 1 million children and adolescents in the USA. This disorder generally appears from infancy, during adolescence or early adult years. Both men and women are affected and people of all races and socioeconomic levels.

People who suffer with OCD may appear paranoid and potentially psychotic. However, obsessive – compulsive individuals generally recognize their obsessions and compulsions as irrational and this realization can upset them even more. Despite this irrational behavior, this disorder is associated with a high IQ.

Obsessions are thoughts, images and impulses repeated over and over, and leads the sufferer to feel they are out of control. Obsessions are often accompanied with intense feelings and annoying emotions like fear, disgust, doubt or a sensation that things need to be done in the “right” way. The difference with a merely obsessive personality is these emotions are felt during the obsessive moments and the margins where these feeling occur. However, in the case of the OCD individual, it affects their core values as a person.

Everyone has felt a degree of fear that something terrible may happen to them or a dear loved one. And occasionally we become “obsessed” with a song or a movie. We may even feel this way during the nighttime, especially if we live in an unsafe neighborhood. This does not mean you have OCD. These fears and anxieties mislabeled “obsessions” are normal and do not interfere with our normal everyday life, and it does not affect our relationships or activities.

Compulsions are the second phase of the obsessive-compulsive disorder. These behaviors or repetitive thoughts are feelings a person uses with the intention to neutralize, counteract or make their obsessions disappear. These compulsions can also include avoiding situations that provoke these obsessive feelings.

 

Similar to obsessions, not all repetitive behaviors or “rituals” are compulsive. The role and context of the behavior needs to be observed. In the case of OCD, compulsive behavior is done with the intention of trying to escape or reduce anxiety or the presence of obsessions.

The most common OCD obsessions are:

  • Pollution / germs / diseases
  • Bodily fluids (examples: feces, urine)
  • Household chemicals (examples: cleaning solvents)
  • Dirt
  • Fear of acting on impulse to harm oneself or others
  • Fear of violent or inappropriate images in the mind including obscenities and insults
  • Fear of being responsible for some tragic event (accidents, theft, fires)
  • Fear of harming others by not being careful enough
  • Concern about regularity or accuracy
  • Concern about the need to know and remember
  • Inability to decide whether or not to keep or discard things
  • Obsessions on aggressive sexual behavior towards others
  • Religious obsessions
  • Excessive concern on right / wrong morals
  • Superstitious ideas on numbers and lucky / unlucky colors

On the other hand, the most common compulsions are:

  • Washing and cleaning in excess
  • Cleaning household items and others objects excessively.
  • Check / verify actions to demonstrate a lack of error and checking your own body parts to ensure nothing terrible happens.
  • Reread or rewrite
  • Repetition of routine activities (entering or exiting doors, climbing up and down from chairs)
  • Repetition of body movements
  • Repetition of activities in a series of “multiples” (Doing a task three times is a “safe” number)
  • Mental reviews of events to avoid harm
  • The organization of things until they feel “just right”
  • Avoiding situations that might trigger your obsessions

What causes OCD?

Although the exact causes are unknown, studies have shown a combination of biological and environmental factors are implied.

At one time, it was thought that a low level of the neurotransmitter serotonin was responsible for the development of OCD.  However, scientists currently believe that problems arise in the brain pathways that link areas that deal with judgment and planning. This is tied to another area that filters the messages that imply bodily movements. And this biological vulnerability to develop OCD can sometimes be inherited.

Studies have also found a relationship between a certain type of infection caused by Streptococcus bacteria and OCD. This infection, if it is reoccurring and not treated, can lead to the development of this disease and other disorders in children.

There are also environmental stressor factors that can influence in people with a tendency to develop this condition. For example:

  • Abuse
  • Illness
  • The death of a loved one
  • Changes or work problems related to work or school


To diagnose this disorder does not require a typical test. The doctor will base their diagnosis on the evaluation of the symptoms of the patients, including how long the person requires for their ritual behaviors. If you think you have OCD or know someone with these symptoms you should consult a doctor.

For your information, the most effective method to treat OCD is a combination of medication and cognitive – behavioral therapy.

I hope this information has been useful!

Until the next time!