A DESCRIPTION OF THE DISEASE AND EACH OF THE FEATURES, OBSESSIONS, AND COMPULSIONS

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder where a person has recurrent and unwanted ideas or impulses (called obsessions) and an urge or compulsion to do something to relieve the discomfort caused by the obsession. The obsessive thoughts range from the idea of losing control, to themes surrounding religion or keeping things or parts of one's body clean all the time. Compulsions are behaviors that help reduce the anxiety surrounding the obsessions. Most people (90%) who have OCD have both obsessions and compulsions. The thoughts and behaviors a person with OCD has are senseless, repetitive, distressing, and sometimes harmful, but they are also difficult to overcome.OCD is more common than schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or panic disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Yet, it is still commonly overlooked by mental health professionals, mental health advocacy groups, and people who themselves have the problem.

Many people still carry the misperception that they somehow caused themselves to have these compulsive behaviors and obsessive thoughts. Nothing could be further from the truth. OCD is likely the cause of a number of intertwined and complex factors which include genetics, biology, personality development, and how a person learns to react to the environment around them. What scientists today do know is that it is not a sign of a character flaw or a personal weakness. OCD is a serious mental disorder, which is more treatable than ever. Without the appropriate treatment, it affects a person's ability to function in every day activities, one's work, one's family, and one's social life.

WHAT ARE OBSESSIONS AND COMPULSIONS?

Obsessions
Obsessions are unwanted ideas or impulses that repeatedly well up in the mind of a person with OCD. Common ideas include persistent fears that harm may come to self or a loved one, an unreasonable concern with becoming contaminated, or an excessive need to do things correctly or perfectly. Again and again, the individual experiences a disturbing thought, such as, "My hands may be contaminated -- I must wash them" or "I may have left the gas on" or "I am going to injure my child." These thoughts tend to be intrusive, unpleasant, and produce a high degree of anxiety. Sometimes the obsessions are of a violent or a sexual nature, or concern illness. (NIMH)

Compulsions
In response to their obsessions, most people with OCD resort to repetitive behaviors called compulsions. The most common of these are washing and checking (e.g., making sure the gas from the oven has been turned off). Other compulsive behaviors include counting (often while performing another compulsive action such as hand washing), repeating, hoarding, and endlessly rearranging objects in an effort to keep them in precise alignment with each other. Cognitive problems, such as mentally repeating phrases, list making, or checking, are also common. These behaviors generally are intended to ward off harm to the person with OCD or others. Some people with OCD have regimented rituals while others have rituals that are complex and changing. Performing rituals may give the person with OCD some relief from anxiety, but it is only temporary. (NIMH) We have developed the information here to act as a comprehensive guide to help you better understand OCD and find out more information about them on your own. Choose from among the different articles in this section to begin your journey into recovery from this treatable disorder.

This material is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor or any other health care professional. Always consult with your physician if you are in any way concerned about your health.
Revised May 30 2002
© 2002 SLPM Self care Ltd.

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