What is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder characterised by the presence of obsessions and compulsions within a patients comprehension and behaviour.

Statistics on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Originally this disorder was thought to be quite rare but but more recent studies have suggested a prevalence in up to 2% of the general population, occurring equally in males and females. It most commonly begins in childhood, between the ages of 7 and 13 years.

Risk Factors for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

The most important risk factor for the development of any anxiety disorder is a family history of the disease. It has been estimated that 35% of patients affected with OCD have a first degree relative affected by this condition.

Progression of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

The life of the patient with OCD will be affected greatly by their psychological obsessions and compulsions. Although knowing that their behaviour is irrational, patients with OCD feel compelled to complete certain tasks to avoid an imagined threat if the ritual is not carried out.

Patients with OCD will experience intrusive and unwelcome thoughts that are accompanied by feelings of disgust and fear. In order to distract themselves from such thought, patients will perform repetitive rituals in an attempt to escape their obsessive thoughts.

Characteristic behaviours include washing hands and other objects, counting or lining up objects and repetitively checking whether lights and appliances have been switched off. Some rituals are derived from superstitions, such as actions repeated a required number of times, with the need to start again if interrupted. If the patient is not allowed to perform these rituals, the patient will become anxious and distressed.

Symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

How is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Diagnosed?

Prognosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

The prognosis of this condition is good, with most cases improving within a year of diagnosis. The minority of cases will developing a long-term course of the illness, fluctuating and persisting with time. When severe, the condition can last for many years, and may be more resistant to treatment than less severe forms of the disease.

How is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Treated?

As with most psychiatric illnesses, the treatment of OCD requires both psychotherapy and the use of medications. Psychotherapy is aimed mainly at the preventing the behaviour response to obsessional throughts, preventing the patient from acting inappropriately. Other techniques are also used to help the patient block obsessional thoughts causing their compulsive behaviour.

The use of medications in combination with psychotherapy improves the outcome of treatment. The use of sedatives in the short term will provide relief from symptoms, but these should not be taken for more than two weeks, otherwise patients will become dependent upon them. Antidepressants are the mainstay of treatment in the long-term, especially the class of drugs known as SSRI’s.

Surgery may be considered as a last resort for patients with severe disabling symptoms that cannot be controlled by medications or psychotherapy. It is extremely rare for OCD to be treated in the manner.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) References

  1. eMedicine.
  2. Kumar P, Clark M. Clinical Medicine. Fourth Ed. WB Saunders, 2002.

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