Understanding OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental illness that causes individuals to fixate on things in life that others might overlook entirely. Since OCD involves high levels of anxiety, the individual with this disorder can even obsessively stress over his obsessions. The fixations in OCD can take many forms; what they all have in common is that they affect the individual’s ability to conduct a normal life.

Misconceptions about OCD

As with bipolar disorder, OCD is often misconstrued by the general public. As an example, people often use the term to describe someone who is just neat or finicky. This uninformed characterization takes away from the real suffering of those with OCD and can prevent people from getting help.

For this reason, it is important that people understand the distinction between OCD and personality traits such as fastidiousness. The anxiety and obsession experienced by someone with OCD interferes with their well-being.

The Diagnostic Criteria for OCD 

To qualify for a diagnosis of OCD, patients must present with certain symptoms as defined by the DSM-5. Diagnostic criteria for the disorder states that:

  • Patients must experience compulsions for longer than one hour per day
  • Patients must experience distress over their fixations

The stress of OCD is typically such that the patient actively believes something disastrous will result from their failure to perform the task on which they are fixated.

Types of Compulsions in OCD

Fixated thinking and compulsions are the two central components of OCD. While other people might not think twice about flipping a light switch, for example, the person with OCD will see it as a monumentally significant task. Someone with OCD might fixate obsessively on some small thing that others disregard, as well, such as germs.

Compulsions stem from the obsessive thinking of the person with OCD. As an example, someone who fixates on germs might then assign themselves the task of wiping down the counters in the kitchen again and again. The patient does not allow himself respite from these tasks; in fact, failure to complete a compulsion will result in a tragedy in the OCD patient’s mind.

Additional Symptoms of OCD

  • Compulsive performance of rituals
  • Panic attacks
  • Avoiding triggering situations
  • Experiencing nightmares often
  • Guilt and anxiety about disorder
  • Hoarding

Treating OCD

Treatment for OCD needs to be tailored to the specific needs of a patient. Therapeutic interventions available to OCD patients include:

  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Group Therapy
  • Medication

Sometimes patients might benefit from group therapy or mediation, as well. Medications that work for OCD include:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Clomipramine (Anafranil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)