Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Nutrition Health Review, Winter 1991 | Go to article overview
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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder


Q: What are the most common symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder?

A: Common symptoms include recurrent fears of contamination, fears of harming others, persistent worries that doors have been left unlocked and light switches left on in an empty home or office. Washing, checking, counting and rearranging rituals are performed to alleviate the anxieties created by these obsessions.

Q: Can obsessive-compulsive symptoms be caused by psychological problems?

A: For many years, psychoanalysts theorized that symptoms represented deep conflicts in the unconscious mind because they fit in perfectly with psychoanalytic principles, but in the case of OCD none of this proved to be correct.

Interaction between an obsessive-compulsive disorder and an individual's anxiety in dealing with its effects upon quality of life may cause psychological problems. It is also possible that the sufferer may have unrelated neurotic trauma.

Some OCD victims have few psychological problems, a phenomenon that has led many scientists to attribute OCD to a genetic defect. The evidence that a heredity factor is principally involved narrows the focus upon ameliorating the problem.

Q: Since OCD involves what seem like panic attacks, how can a physician determine the difference between obsessive-compulsive disorder and panic anxiety?

One difference can be found in the patient's history: OCD usually can be observed in early childhood, while panic disorders can begin later and are triggered by a particular trauma such as an airplane ride, snakes, spiders or a malfunctioning elevator.

Q: When does OCD usually begin?

A: Usually it becomes apparent in the late teens, although many experience obsessions before adolescence. It affects males and females equally. Because sufferers are ashamed of their behavior and suppose the condition is unique to them, obsessive-compulsives usually wait many years before seeking treatment.

Q: Is there an estimate of how many people are afflicted?

A: Once considered to be a rare disorder, OCD is now supposed to affect at least 5 million Americans.

Q: Patients often complain that their OCD symptoms wax and wane. Sometimes they feel great improvement and relief, only to slip back. Why?

A: Vulnerability may be one of the answers. Stress, weariness or depression can heighten OCD behavior.

Q: What are the psychiatric definitions of OCD?

A: Obsessions are defined as persistent thoughts, ideas, impulses or images that are experienced as intrusive and senseless. The sufferer attempts to suppress or ignore them. Unlike people suffering from delusion, OCD patients realize that the thoughts are the product of their own minds.

Compulsions are defined as repetitive, purposeful and intentional behaviors performed in response to an obsession in an attempt to reduce anxiety induced by the obsession.

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