Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is described as an anxiety disorder. It’s estimated around 12 in every 1,000 people in the UK are affected by the condition. This equates to almost 750,000 people. OCD affects men, women and children. The condition typically first starts to significantly interfere with a person’s life during early adulthood, although problems can develop at any age.

The condition has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions

Obsessions:

An obsession is an unwanted and unpleasant thought, image or urge that repeatedly enters a person’s mind, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease. These obsessions are often frightening or seem so horrible that you can’t share them with others. The obsession interrupts your other thoughts and makes you feel very anxious.

Compulsions:

A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour or mental act that someone feels they need to carry out to try to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings brought on by the obsessive thought. The aim of a compulsion is to try and deal with the distress caused by the obsessive thoughts and relieve the anxiety you are feeling. However, the process of repeating these compulsions is often distressing and any relief you feel is often short-lived.

The causes of OCD:

Brain imaging studies have shown the brains of some people with OCD can be different from the brains of people who do not have the condition, for example, there may be increased activity in certain areas of the brain, particularly those that deal with strong emotions and the responses to them.

How OCD is treated:

With treatment, the outlook for OCD is good. Many people will eventually be cured of their OCD, or their symptoms will at least be reduced enough that they can enjoy a good quality of life.

The main treatments for OCD are:

  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – involving a therapy known as graded exposure with response prevention (ERP), which encourages you to face your fear and let the obsessive thoughts occur without “neutralising” them with compulsions
  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – this medication can help reduce your symptoms by altering the balance of chemicals in your brain

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