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Wednesday, 13 October, 1999, 17:23 GMT 18:23 UK
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder compels sufferers to perform bizarre behaviour against their will
Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be very distressing for all concerned
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder which can have a potentially devastating impact on all aspects of everyday life. Sufferers demonstrate bizarre behaviour, upsetting both to them and families, colleagues and friends. OCD is estimated to affect 2-3% of the general population.

What are obsessions and compulsions?

Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses or images that cause marked anxiety or distress. A sufferer recognises the obsessions are the products of his or her mind, and tries to suppress them or to neutralise them with some other thought or action.

Mental Health
Compulsions are repetitive behaviours or mental acts a sufferer feels driven to perform in response to an obsession in order to reduce distress or prevent a dreaded event or situation. They are either completely inappropriate or clearly excessive.

What sort of compulsions do people suffer from?

Common compulsions are hand washing, ordering, checking, praying, counting, and repeating words silently.

What impact do obsessions and compulsions have on everyday life?

Both obsessions and compulsions can be resisted only with great difficulty and usually only for a short period of time.

They are very distressing, time consuming, and can significantly interfere with work and social patterns and personal relationships.

The disorder is often accompanied by depression and anxiety, as well as by the misuse of substances such as alcohol, in an attempt to self-medicate.

What causes OCD?

There are several theories about the cause of OCD. Current thinking is that the condition is related to low levels of the brain chemical serotonin. It appears OCD may run in some families for genetic reasons. Some specialists believe OCD may afflict people who set unrealistically high personal standards for themselves.

What is the outlook?

Untreated, OCD is usually a lifelong illness with periodic worsening and improvement of symptoms. With treatment, obsessions and compulsions can be reduced or eliminated completely.

What treatment is available?

Treatment usually consists of behaviour therapy and/or medication.

Behaviour therapy helps people reduce the anxiety associated with obsession and reduce or eliminate compulsions. Sufferers are usually encouraged to face feared situations without resorting to compulsive rituals. Other techniques to address specific obsessions or compulsions are sometimes used.

The most successful medications are the serotonergic anti-depressants. Other anti-depressant, anti-psychotic and anti-anxiety drugs are also used.

What can be done to maximise the chances of recovery?

  • Medication should be taken as prescribed.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Sleep adequately.
  • Join a self-help group.
  • Educate yourself and your family about OCD.

This page contains basic information. If you are concerned about your health, you should consult a doctor.

See also:

19 May 98 | Politics of Health
Setting targets for a healthier nation
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