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What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a chronic mental health condition characterized by persistent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These symptoms can greatly interfere with daily life, making even simple tasks challenging.

At Neuro Wellness Spa, we are dedicated to helping individuals understand OCD and find effective treatments to manage this condition. In this article, we will explore the symptoms of OCD, the process for diagnosing the disorder, and the various treatment options available. Understanding these aspects is essential for managing OCD effectively and improving the quality of life for those affected. With the right approach and support, individuals with OCD can lead fulfilling, productive lives.

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a chronic mental health condition marked by persistent, unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors. These symptoms can significantly disrupt daily life and overall functioning [2].

Understanding Obsessions and Compulsions

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder affects 1-3% of the world’s population [2] and is characterized by intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors. Obsessions cause significant anxiety, while compulsions are performed to alleviate this distress.

The main components of OCD include [2]:

1. Obsessions:

Obsession are intrusive and unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that cause significant anxiety or distress. Examples include:

  • Repeated thoughts about contamination
  • Repeated doubts
  • A need to have things in a particular order
  • Aggressive or horrific impulses or images
  • Sexual imagery or disturbing mental images

2. Compulsions:

Repetitive behaviors or mental acts that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly. Examples include:

  • Washing and cleaning
  • Counting
  • Checking
  • Requesting or demanding reassurances
  • Repeating actions
  • Ordering/arranging

Types of OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can look different for each person. While everyone with OCD experiences obsessions and compulsions, the way these symptoms appear in daily life can vary widely.

The Main Types of OCD include:

Pure Compulsions (PCS)

This type involves mostly compulsive behavior without obsessive thoughts. People with this type might perform repetitive actions like washing hands or checking locks but don’t have the intrusive thoughts that usually come with OCD.

Pure Compulsions are more common in younger people, especially those in their twenties. This type often starts at a younger age and is more frequent in males and individuals who develop OCD early. It may also include specific feelings or urges that something has to be “just right.” [13].

Mixed Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms (MOCS)

This type includes both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. People with this type have intrusive thoughts and perform actions to try to ease the anxiety these thoughts cause. Mixed OCD is often found alongside other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. This type of OCD can be more complex and severe, with a combination of genetic and environmental factors playing a role [13].

Dimensions and Subtypes of OCD

Understanding the various ways in which OCD manifests in people’s lives allows us to appreciate its complexity and the significant impact it has on individuals. OCD isn’t a singular experience; it encompasses a broad spectrum of related disorders and can be triggered by various environmental factors.

Mixed Obsessive-Compulsive Subtypes

There are several specific subtypes of OCD, each with its own characteristics [5, 10]:

  1. Harm OCD: Involves intrusive thoughts about causing harm to oneself or others.
  2. Sexual Orientation OCD (SO-OCD): Characterized by obsessive fears related to one’s sexual orientation.
  3. Pedophilia OCD (POCD): Involves intrusive thoughts or fears about being a pedophile.
  4. Relationship OCD: Obsessions about the quality or nature of romantic relationships.
  5. “Just Right” OCD: Need for things to feel “just right” or symmetrical.
  6. Contamination OCD: Intense fear of germs or contamination, leading to excessive washing or cleaning.
  7. Pure Obsessional OCD (Pure-O): Characterized by intrusive thoughts without visible compulsions.

Dimensions of OCD [11]:

  1. Primary OCD: The classic form of OCD is characterized by obsessions and compulsions, often accompanied by high levels of anxiety.
  2. OCD Spectrum Disorders (OCSD): Disorders that share similarities with OCD, such as body dysmorphic disorder, Tourette syndrome, and autism spectrum disorders. 
  3. OCD-Related Disorders (OCRD): Conditions related to OCD but with distinct features, including hoarding disorder, trichotillomania, and hypochondriasis.
  4. Environmental-Based OCD-Related Disorders: OCD onset is linked to environmental factors like trauma, infection, or neurological issues.
  5. Genomic OCD-Related Disorders: OCD-related conditions associated with specific genetic factors or chromosomal abnormalities.

Symptoms of OCD

Obsessions: Obsessions are persistent, unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that cause distress or anxiety. These intrusive thoughts often lead to compulsive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety or preventing a feared event.

Common themes of obsessions include [9]:

  • Fear of contamination or dirt: Persistent fears of germs or contaminants, leading to excessive hand washing or cleaning rituals.
  • Doubts and difficulty tolerating uncertainty: Persistent doubts about safety or whether something terrible might happen.
  • A need for things to be orderly and symmetrical: Obsessions with symmetry, orderliness, or exactness leads to repetitive behaviors like arranging items in a specific way.
  • Disturbing thoughts about losing control: Intrusive thoughts about harm coming to oneself or others due to losing control.
  • Unwanted thoughts involving aggression or inappropriate sexual or religious content: Intrusive thoughts of violence, sexual acts, or sacrilegious thoughts that are distressing

Compulsions: Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that individuals feel compelled to perform in response to an obsession. These actions are aimed at reducing anxiety or preventing a feared outcome, but they provide only temporary relief.

Common themes of compulsions include [9]:

  • Washing and cleaning: Excessive hand washing, showering, or cleaning rituals in response to fears of contamination. 
  • Checking: Repeatedly checking things like locks, stoves, or appliances to prevent harm.
  • Counting: Counting in a specific pattern or sequence as a way to reduce anxiety.
  • Arranging items: Repeatedly arranging objects to achieve symmetry or orderliness.
  • Following a strict routine: Insisting on specific routines or rituals to reduce anxiety.
  • Seeking reassurance: Repeatedly asking for reassurance from others to alleviate anxiety.

These symptoms can vary in intensity and may change over time. They often cause significant distress and can interfere with daily activities, relationships, and overall quality of life [9].

Severity Varies

OCD often begins in adolescence or early adulthood, though it can start in childhood. Symptoms typically develop gradually and can fluctuate throughout life, usually worsening during periods of stress or significant change. The nature of obsessions and compulsions may also shift over time. While OCD is generally a chronic condition, its severity can range from mild to severely debilitating [9].

Causes of OCD

The exact causes of OCD are not fully understood, but research suggests that a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors contribute to the development of the disorder.

  • Genetics: OCD tends to run in families, indicating a strong genetic component. While specific genes responsible for OCD have not been identified, having a family member with the disorder increases the likelihood of developing it [7,9].
  • Brain Abnormalities: Research has shown that chemical, structural, and functional abnormalities in the brain are associated with OCD. These abnormalities may affect the brain’s ability to regulate emotions and manage anxiety. The areas of the brain involved in OCD are often linked to controlling fear and anxiety responses [7].
  • Environmental Factors: Certain environmental factors may also influence the development of OCD. Stressful life events, childhood trauma, hormonal changes, and certain personality traits can increase the risk. Additionally, compulsions can become habitual behaviors that are reinforced when they provide temporary relief from anxiety [7].
  • Neurobiological Factors: OCD is often linked to other mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorders, depression, and substance abuse. This suggests that underlying neurobiological mechanisms may contribute to the development of OCD, influencing how the brain processes fear and anxiety [9].

Understanding these causes helps in identifying potential risk factors and developing effective treatment strategies for managing OCD.

When to Seek Help

It’s important to distinguish between perfectionism and OCD. OCD involves irrational thoughts and behaviors that go beyond everyday concerns about cleanliness or orderliness. If your symptoms interfere with your daily life, it is crucial to seek help from a healthcare provider or mental health professional [9].

How is OCD Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of OCD involves a thorough psychiatric evaluation and clinical assessment to distinguish its symptoms from other conditions. The DSM-5 criteria stipulate that obsessions and compulsions must be time-consuming (taking at least one hour per day) and significantly impair social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning [2-3, 9].

  • Psychological Evaluation: This involves detailed discussions with a healthcare provider about symptoms, behaviors, and their impact on daily life.
  • Physical Exam: A physical examination helps rule out medical conditions that could mimic or exacerbate OCD symptoms.
  • Diagnostic Criteria: Diagnosis relies on criteria outlined in the DSM-5 and ICD-10, ensuring consistency in identifying and assessing OCD symptoms.
  • Differential Diagnosis: It’s crucial to differentiate OCD from other disorders like an anxiety disorder or schizophrenia to ensure accurate diagnosis and treatment planning.
  • Assessment of Symptoms: Evaluating the frequency, intensity, and impact of obsessions and compulsions helps gauge the severity of OCD and tailor treatment accordingly.

Accurate diagnosis is essential for developing an effective treatment plan and improving the quality of life for individuals with OCD.

Related: Understanding OCD Vs Anxiety: Similarities, Differences, and Treatment Options

What does an OCD episode look like?

An OCD episode typically involves intrusive, recurring thoughts (obsessions) that trigger anxiety and compulsions to perform specific rituals or behaviors to alleviate the anxiety. These obsessions and compulsions can significantly disrupt daily life, causing distress and impairment in social, occupational, and other areas of functioning [6, 9].

How does OCD affect your life?

OCD can have a profound impact on an individual’s life, affecting their relationships, work, and overall well-being. It can lead to:

  • Social isolation due to avoidance of situations that trigger obsessions
  • Time-consuming rituals that interfere with daily routines
  • Emotional distress and anxiety
  • Strained relationships with family and friends
  • Decreased productivity and performance at work or school
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment

What is the best treatment for OCD?

The best treatment for OCD is a combination of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and/or medication. Specifically, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, a type of CBT, has the most substantial evidence supporting its use in treating OCD [6, 9].

ERP involves gradually exposing the individual to situations that trigger obsessions while preventing them from engaging in compulsive behaviors [6, 9]. This helps them learn to manage their anxiety and reduce the frequency and intensity of their compulsions [6, 9, 12].

How to Manage and Treat OCD

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a widely used form of talk therapy where individuals work with a mental health counselor in a structured manner over a limited number of sessions [8]. The aim is to become aware of and change inaccurate or negative thinking patterns, allowing one to respond to challenging situations more effectively [8].

CBT is effective for treating various mental health disorders like depression, PTSD, and OCD and can also help individuals without mental health conditions manage stress better [8]. It involves identifying and addressing specific challenges, often requiring fewer sessions than other therapies [8].

CBT can help manage symptoms of mental illness, prevent relapse, develop coping strategies for stress, resolve relationship conflicts, deal with grief or trauma, and manage chronic physical symptoms [8]. It can be combined with other treatments, such as medications, for better results.

During CBT, therapists encourage patients to talk about their thoughts and feelings, identify negative thinking patterns, and reshape these thoughts [8]. The process includes setting goals, doing homework assignments, and applying learned techniques in daily life [8]. Sessions can be individual or group-based and sometimes incorporate online resources.

Related: Exploring Different Types of Therapy

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)

ERP is an evidence-based treatment for OCD [2], involving patients being exposed to anxiety-inducing situations and guided to refrain from their usual compulsive behaviors [2]. This therapy can be conducted individually, in groups, or through internet-based programs [2]. OCD therapy combining CBT with ERP gradually exposes patients to their fears and helps them resist the urge to perform compulsions, making it the primary treatment for many patients due to its effectiveness in reducing symptoms and experiencing the benefits of therapy [14].

Pharmacotherapy

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant and the first-line medications for treating OCD [2]. These medications are typically prescribed at higher doses than those used for other anxiety or mood disorders [2], and they work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, which can reduce OCD symptoms [14].

However, not all patients respond fully to SSRIs and may require additional treatment strategies [2]. For patients who do not respond adequately to SSRIs alone, adding other psychiatric medications such as an antipsychotic medication to the treatment regimen is a common next step [14]. While SSRIs are proven effective as monotherapy, adding low-dose antipsychotics has shown benefits in some treatment-resistant cases [14]. It’s important to monitor patients carefully due to potential side effects and the complexity of medication interactions [14].

Related: Best Medication for OCD and Anxiety: Exploring Their Connection and Treatment Options

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive treatment originally used to treat depression and has been increasingly used to treat Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). TMS involves sending magnetic pulses to specific areas of the brain to help regulate abnormal activity without the need for surgery [4].

TMS targets brain regions linked to OCD, such as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), supplementary motor area (SMA), and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) [4]. By stimulating these areas, TMS can help adjust the brain’s neural circuits and reduce OCD symptoms [4].

TMS is a promising treatment option for OCD, especially for those who haven’t found relief with other therapies. By targeting key brain regions, TMS can help reduce OCD symptoms and improve the quality of life for many patients. Continued research is helping to refine TMS techniques and better understand its long-term benefits for OCD treatment [4].

TMS can be used in combination with other therapies for treating OCD, and research suggests that combining TMS with other existing behavioral therapy and medications can enhance their effectiveness in reducing OCD symptoms [1].

Neuro Wellness Spa has extensive experience administering TMS, performing a remarkable 129,164 total TMS sessions (and counting) across various conditions. Their success is evidenced by a 72% overall response rate, highlighting the effectiveness of TMS as a treatment option. This high response rate underscores the potential of TMS to significantly improve symptoms and enhance the quality of life for many patients.

Impact on Quality of Life

OCD is included among the top 10 disabling disorders by the World Health Organization (WHO) [2]. Patients often avoid situations that trigger their obsessions, leading to reduced social interactions and a lower quality of life [2]. If left untreated, OCD can cause structural changes in the brain, making the condition more challenging to treat over time [2].

Treatment for OCD is not one-size-fits-all. Higher doses of medications and more prolonged treatment durations may be necessary for some patients [14]. The severity and type of symptoms can also influence the treatment approach [14]. For instance, individuals with severe compulsions might require more intensive therapy or a combination of treatments to achieve significant relief [14].

OCD can have a profound impact on an individual’s life, affecting their relationships, work, and overall well-being. It can lead to:

  • Social isolation due to avoidance of situations that trigger obsessions
  • Time-consuming rituals that interfere with daily routines
  • Emotional distress and anxiety
  • Strained relationships with family and friends
  • Decreased productivity and performance at work or school
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment

Help and Support for OCD

Obsessive-compulsive disorder presents significant challenges and can significantly impact daily life. Fortunately, various treatment options, including combinations, are available to help manage symptoms effectively. Understanding these options and seeking appropriate care are crucial steps toward improving the quality of life for individuals living with OCD.

If you or a loved one is struggling with OCD or other mental disorders, contact Neuro Wellness Spa to learn more about how our mental health professionals could help manage symptoms and improve quality of life. We offer comprehensive mental health treatment options including in-person and online psychiatry for medication management, in-person and online talk therapy, and alternative treatments like TMS therapy. Call us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step toward effective treatment.

References:

  1. Abramson, C. (n.d.). OCD and TMS: An effective treatment option? NOCD. Retrieved January 12, 2024, from https://www.treatmyocd.com/what-is-ocd/info/ocd-stats-and-science/ocd-and-tms-an-effective-treatment-option
  2. Brock, H., Rizvi, A., & Hany, M. (2024). Obsessive-compulsive disorder. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.
  3. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Retrieved January 12, 2024, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9490-ocd-obsessive-compulsive-disorder
  4. Cocchi, L., Zalesky, A., Nott, Z., Whybird, G., Fitzgerald, P. B., & Breakspear, M. (2018). Transcranial magnetic stimulation in obsessive-compulsive disorder: A focus on network mechanisms and state dependence. NeuroImage: Clinical, 19, 661–674. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nicl.2018.05.029
  5. Guazzini, A., Gursesli, M. C., Serritella, E., Tani, M., & Duradoni, M. (2022). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) types and social media: Are social media important and impactful for OCD people? European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education, 12(8), 1108–1120. https://doi.org/10.3390/ejihpe12080078
  6. International OCD Foundation. (n.d.). How is OCD treated? Retrieved January 12, 2024, from https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/treatment/
  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Retrieved January 12, 2024, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/obsessivecompulsive-disorder-ocd
  8. Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Cognitive behavioral therapy. Retrieved January 12, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/about/pac-20384610
  9. Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Retrieved January 12, 2024, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20354438
  10. McGrath, P. (2024, February 9). Common types of OCD: Subtypes, their symptoms, and the best treatment. NOCD. Retrieved January 12, 2024, from https://www.treatmyocd.com/education/different-types-of-ocd
  11. Murphy, D. L., Timpano, K. R., Wheaton, M. G., Greenberg, B. D., & Miguel, E. C. (2010). Obsessive-compulsive disorder and its related disorders: A reappraisal of obsessive-compulsive spectrum concepts. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 12(2), 131–148. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2010.12.2/dmurphy
  12. National Health Service (England). (n.d.). Treatment – Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Retrieved January 12, 2024, from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/treatment/
  13. Rodgers, S., Ajdacic-Gross, V., Kawohl, W., Müller, M., Rössler, W., Hengartner, M. P., Castelao, E., Vandeleur, C., Angst, J., & Preisig, M. (2015). Comparing two basic subtypes in OCD across three large community samples: A pure compulsive versus a mixed obsessive-compulsive subtype. European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, 265(8), 719–734. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00406-015-0594-0
  14. Singh, A., Anjankar, V. P., & Sapkale, B. (2023). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): A comprehensive review of diagnosis, comorbidities, and treatment approaches. Cureus, 15(11), e48960. https://doi.org/10.7759/cureus.48960
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