What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? Its Symptoms, Treatment, Test

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What Is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder? Its Symptoms, Treatment, Test

Humans are biologically conditioned to make sure that they and their loved ones are safe. So, it is not wrong, once in a while, to recheck if you have turned the heater off, or think that you might be contaminated by germs, or worry that someone you care about could be in danger.

But, what if these thoughts occur to you repeatedly and obsessively? What if you cannot shake the obsession of checking if the tap is turned off?

If these ordinarily trivial thoughts keep disturbing your mind, then you could be suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder or OCD. But, before you jump into conclusions, let's know about OCD in a bit more detail.

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Defining OCD can be a tricky job. But, a general definition of OCD can be - Obsessive-compulsive Disorder is a mental condition that is (generally) characterized by usually upsetting or distressing, involuntary, obsessive, and repetitive physical and mental acts and thoughts. OCD is a unique condition in itself but falls under the category of “obsessive-compulsive and related disorders” under the DSM-5.

Some facts about the obsessive-compulsive disorder:

  • Common compulsive thoughts and acts include, but not limited to, washing, cleaning, checking, and repeating.
  • As per the American Psychiatric Association (APA), OCD doesn’t discriminate against people based on race and socio-economic backgrounds. People of all color and socio-economic conditions can have OCD.
  • OCD is found to affect females at a slightly higher rate than it affects men.
  • People usually hide their symptoms of OCD in fear of embarrassment and judgment from the people around them.
  • OCD’s treatment can be done through therapy and medication.
  • OCD has been observed to have a considerable impact on the social and working life of people.

Types of OCD

Now that the definition part is out of the way, let’s go through the types of OCD that occur in people. There are several types of OCD, and they each present in different ways in different people.

  1. Checking: This type of OCD is generally characterized by the obsessive need to check stuff around you, whether the thing may be dangerous or trivial. For example, repeatedly checking for leaks from taps, making sure the alarm is set, making sure the lights are all turned off, etc.
    However, this is not only limited to things. It may also cause you to repeatedly check on your loved ones or a casual friend for that matter in fear that they might be in some danger, or that they might contract some disease.
    The third way that this might present in a person is the repetitive checking if the emails are sent, or re-reading messages to see if you have offended someone during a conversation. It is due to having no trust in the authenticity of your memories.
  2. Contamination or mental contamination: This is a type of OCD which causes you to obsessively think if the things or people that they touched are contaminated. It causes you to excessive cleaning of bathrooms and kitchen, toothbrushing. It also results in you appearing as anti-social because it causes you to avoid crowds in fear of physical contamination.
    Mental contamination is a feeling people with OCD get that they are ‘dirty,’ specially after people have mistreated them. It always makes you believe that the other person is responsible for mental contamination. And; a person with this type of OCD will shower and wash excessively to ‘scrub away’ the contamination or feeling.
  3. Hoarding: It is the compulsive want to keep useless or used things.
  4. Rumination: This is a weird one. This one causes you to focus on a broad and more often than not, a philosophical topic. And it involves a long and uncentralized train of thought about these topics, such as the afterlife or origin of the universe. However, the thoughts never reach a conclusion that is satisfactory to the person.
  5. Intrusive Thoughts: This kind of OCD causes you to think about horrific and violent thoughts obsessively. It often involves thoughts of hurting (physically or sexually) a loved one.
    However, it doesn't imply that the person thinks these thoughts because they want to. These are involuntary thoughts and usually cause a lot of physical and mental distress. These thoughts include homicidal & suicidal thoughts and obsession with superstitions.
  6. Symmetry and orderliness: A person affected by OCD of this kind often compulsorily thinks about things being in symmetry. It causes you to adjust stuff like bookshelves repeatedly and in a particular manner or order.

A thing to note here is that these are not all of the categories that OCD can be categorized into, but almost all obsessions and compulsory behaviors fall under these groups.

How To Know If You Have OCD? Signs And Symptoms

It might seem fairly straightforward, but symptoms that you could have OCD is to determine if you have obsessions and compulsions. But there’s more to it than this.

OCD causes a person to have some obsessions and compulsions. Some common obsessions include:

  • Fear of germs or dirt, causing you to avoid touching things and people that you might deem germ-infested.
  • An extreme need for order, resulting in you feeling distressed when things are out of place and order around you, or making you feel uncomfortable until you have arranged things in a certain way.
  • A fear of self-harm or harm to others, which results in you randomly thinking about hurting yourself or someone else in the middle of completely unrelated and separate thought.
  • Doubts and fear about making a mistake, causing you to doubt everything that you do, and feel a need for validation from others about the things you’re doing.
  • Fear of embarrassment, making you feel self-conscious about blurting out cuss words and misbehaving in social situations.

And the theme of commonality continues with compulsions, as some compulsions that an OCD patient might have are:

  • Washing and cleaning, causing you to wash your hands or take a shower multiple times in a short period.

What Causes OCD?

The exact and right answer to that question doesn’t exist. Scientists and doctors aren’t sure what causes some people to have OCD.

A figure depicting the cycle in which OCD affects a person (Photo: Helpguide.org)

However, that doesn’t mean any differences are not seen between people who have and do not have OCD. It is observed that certain areas in the brain do not look normal in people who have OCD. But, more research is still needed in the field of this medical condition.

It is also speculated that OCD might have genetic causation, but this is only a speculation at this point. You are more likely to have this disorder if the following conditions are met:

  • If you have a family member who has OCD
  • If you suffer from depression, anxiety, or tics or Tourette’s Syndrome
  • If you have experienced traumatic situations in your life.
  • If you have a history of physical or sexual abuse during your childhood

Changes Related To DSM-5 and ICD-10

Obsessive-Compulsive disorder used to fall under the category of Anxiety Disorders in DSM-IV. But in the latest edition of DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), that is, DSM-5, the category Anxiety Disorders has been divided into three separate groups, namely; Anxiety Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, and Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders.

The rationale for separating categories with obsessive-compulsive features is simple. It was separated into a distinct group on the basis of whether there is any evidence of a relationship between two or more disorders. And, doctors concluded that there are unique differences between causes of Anxiety Disorders and OCRDs that justifies a separation.

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Moving on from DSM-5, let’s talk about ICD-10. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) consists of a set of codes to report diagnosis and in-patient procedures. The introduction of ICD-10 has helped forward the research on the field of OCD after its introduction in 1990.

Treatment for OCD

The treatment for OCD, just like for the majority of other mental health issues, is of three types. They are: 

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
    It is a type of psychotherapy that targets to help an individual with OCD change the way they think, feel, and behave. Research has shown that cognitive-behavioral therapy has eased 75 percent of OCD patients significantly. It is further divided into two separate treatments, namely; Exposure and response prevention, and Cognitive therapy.
  2. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI)
    This treatment is directly related to the use of drugs for treating and managing OCD. There are various medications for the treatment of OCD, but the dosage depends on individual patients.
  3. Combination of both CBT and SSRI

Can You Self-Diagnose OCD Through Online Test?

With the advancement in internet technology, now you can diagnose if you have OCD from the comfort of your home. There are a few tests on the internet that help you decide about seeking medical help.

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Some online tests for self-diagnosing OCD are Psycom and PsychCentral. These tests consist of questions related to common behaviors among patients with OCD.

However, do not come to a conclusion just based on these tests. A visit to a qualified medical professional will only determine whether you have OCD and the severity of it.