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Someone who is particularly fussy or analytical does not necessarily suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. The NIMH defines OCD as a long-lasting disorder that involves thoughts and compulsive actions the person is unable to control. That means they can’t, on their own, stop thinking about something or keep themselves from performing a compulsive action or ritual.
Examples of obsessive thoughts might include fears of getting hurt or germs or worrying about someone spying on you. Compulsive actions might include cleaning excessively, repetitive hand washing, or counting things a certain way or number of times.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, medical researchers don’t know the exact cause of OCD. However, studies have shown that certain brain activity — or a lack of certain normal activities within the brain — may be a factor. Brains in individuals with OCD may not properly make use of or respond to serotonin. That’s a chemical involved in several body and brain functions, including communication between the cells of your nerves.
Other factors which might increase someone’s risk for dealing with obsessive compulsive disorder include:
Around 1.2% of adults deal with OCD annually, and women are diagnosed with OCD at more than thrice the rate of men. According to American Family Physician, between 60 to 70% of OCD cases are chronic. That means that the person may deal with the symptoms of the disorder off and on for life and require long-term treatment.
However, remission of symptoms is possible when proper treatments are applied. Unfortunately, less than a third of patients with severe symptoms receive treatment for their disorder.
OCD is not a disorder that is limited to adults. American Family Physician notes that 1 to 2% of children in America also deal with this mental health condition.
The symptoms of OCD tend to be the display of obsessions or compulsions — or both. In some cases, the person is not aware that these thoughts and actions are irrational. In other cases, they are aware that they’re being irrational, but they can’t stop themselves.
Examples of obsessions include any mental images, thoughts, fears, and urges that are repetitive, uncontrolled, and cause anxiety. Examples include:
Compulsions are the actions that occur in response to obsessions. Someone might engage in excessive cleaning or showering, for example. This tends to go beyond someone being a “neat freak” and be unhealthy levels that interfere with the ability to lead a normal life. Other examples of compulsions include repeatedly checking things, counting compulsively, and ordering things.
It may be difficult to tell the difference between someone who is just very careful and someone who has OCD. If you’re spending an hour or more a day on these types of behaviors or can’t control them, consider talking to your doctor or a mental health professional to get perspective about your individual situation.
According to a study published by the peer-reviewed journal Psychiatry MMC, many people put off getting treatment for OCD because they are embarrassed at what thoughts they are having or the fact that they can’t control themselves. But treatment is an option, and delaying it can make matters worse. The study authors note that early treatment can minimize any serious complication or disability associated with obsessive compulsive disorder.
The right treatment option may vary for each individual, and it’s something a person should decide on with help from a mental health treatment team. However, some common treatment options for obsessive compulsive disorder are summarized below.
OCD treatment is provided via a number of venues. In severe cases, medical or mental health professionals might recommend inpatient treatment. In other cases, treatment might be managed via outpatient therapy or by follow-up appointments with a doctor.
The information in this guide is presented for educational purposes only. It is not meant to be used for making a diagnosis or as a recommendation for treatment. If you believe you or someone you love is suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder, reach out to your medical provider or a local mental health professional or clinic for assistance.