What Exactly Is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental disorder characterized by recurring, uncontrollable obsessions and compulsions, with conditions such as phobias and panic attacks in a category called anxiety disorder. Such disorders involve excessive fear or worry that lasts a long time or keeps coming back. The symptoms cause distress or interfere with the person’s usual activities and social relationships.

When people repeatedly try to neutralize these thoughts or images with another thought, image or action, a compulsion results. Compulsions often involve rigid routines and rituals that seem nonsensical to outside observers. But to the person with OCD, they have a purpose, because they counteract the anxiety that comes from obsessive thoughts.

What Forms Can the OCD Disorder Take?

I. Washing and cleaning
II. Checking – People with checking compulsions are consumed by anxiety about potential calamities
III. Repeating – Like checkers, repeaters often are obsessed with potential disasters.
IV. Ordering and Arranging – Orderers and arrangers are plagued by worries that something in their environment is not just right.
V. Hoarding – People who compulsively hoard things are driven by constant anxiety about not having what they’ll need in the future.
VI. Counting and other mental rituals – Like other people with OCD, those who fall into this category engage in compulsive rituals.  The difference is that they perform their rituals entirely within their minds.
VII. Excessive praying and scrupulosity – Scrupulosity refers to an excessive concern about offending God, committing a sin, having blasphemous thoughts, or doing something immoral.

Compulsion or Tic?

Tics are sudden, rapid, repetitive movements or vocalizations that serve no useful purpose.  But more complex tics, which involve coordinated patterns of movement in several muscle groups, sometimes look as if they might be purposeful even though they aren’t.

Compulsions are preceded by a mental event, such as an obsession or perhaps a feeling of depression and anxiety.  Tics on the other hand, are preceded by a sense of physical tension that builds up until the need for release is almost irresistible, much like the tension before a sneeze.

What Causes Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Today the main focus has shifted from emotional explanations to generic and biological ones.  There is a large and growing body of research linking OCD to a malfunctioning brain.  Of course, once the disease has taken root, social and environmental factors still may affect how the symptoms are experienced.  Stressful situations, for example, may make symptoms worse.

Biological Factors of OCD

OCD seems to be related to changes in the brain’s natural chemistry. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that act as messengers within the brain.  One such chemical messenger that has been implicated in OCD is serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood, sleep, appetite and sexual drive.  The brains of people with OCD often have abnormalities in the circuits that link the orbital cortex, located at the front of the brain, and the basal ganglia, located deeper inside.

Genetic Factors of OCD

Genes also seem to play a key role in OCD.  I you have a parent or another close relative with the disorder, your own risk of developing it is increased.

Environmental Factors of OCD

In some people with OCD, stressful life events may worsen the intrusive thoughts and compulsive rituals that are hallmarks of the disorder.

The Infection Connection of OCD

One more strange-but-true fact about OCD: In a very small number of children, OCD or tics start suddenly and dramatically after a strep throat.  Antibodies meant to attack strep bacteria mistakenly act on a certain brain enzyme.  This disrupts communication between brain cells, which is thought to cause OCD symptoms.

– Author Unknown