It’s probably not OCD: What you need to know about the diagnosis

OCD wash
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Many people like to do things in a unique, particular manner. This is best described as a form of individualized perfectionism, which is not necessarily bad as it can improve organization and efficiency when performing daily or work-related tasks.اضافة اعلان

However, individualized perfectionism is often confused with a mental health condition known as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which can seriously worsen the individual’s quality of life.

The confusion between both can lead to improper OCD self-diagnosis and leave people feeling the need to change something in their life that might not need to change.

What is OCD?
The international prevalence of this condition is rare, coming at only 1.1–1.8 percent, which is stark in contrast to how frequently the term is used.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, OCD is comprised of two important characteristics: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are defined as recurrent and persistent thoughts that are intrusive and unwanted, which can cause anxiety and distress in most individuals.

A compulsion is repetitive behaviors or mental acts that results from an obsession. Compulsions are meant to help reduce anxiety or distress but, in actuality, have no realistic or practical connection to the obsession. Individuals will try and suppress or ignore obsessions or neutralize them by performing a compulsion.

To be diagnosed with OCD, one can have obsessions, compulsions, or both, although it is most commonly presented as both.

Features of OCD
OCD typically begins to present itself in adolescence or early adulthood. In the US, the average age of onset is approximately 19.5, and 25 percent of cases present at 14 years. Although onset after age 35 is uncommon, it can still happen.

OCD is also a chronic condition, especially when left untreated, but in most cases, symptoms are episodic. If left untreated, remission rates in adults are low. The onset of the disease in childhood or adolescence can lead to lifelong OCD.

Between the sexes, females are slightly more affected than males; however, males often have an earlier onset than females. It is estimated that nearly 25 percent of males have an onset before age 10.

Causes and risk factors of OCD
The cause of many mental health conditions is difficult to pinpoint, and OCD is no exception. Studies into this disorder are still relatively new, although dysfunction in certain brain areas has been identified as a strong risk indicator.

It is widely believed, however, that genetic and environmental factors play a role. Genetics does seem to play a greater role in developing OCD, as many studies indicate that a family history of OCD is a strong indicator of the risk of developing OCD. Those with a first-degree relative with OCD (i.g. parents) are twice as likely to develop the disorder.

Environmental factors can further increase the risk, including developmental factors such as stress, trauma, or childhood abuse, especially if the individual already has genetic risk factors or can worsen preexisting symptoms. Traumatic brain injury may also play a role in developing OCD.

A 2021 study assessed the relationship between traumatic brain injuries and OCD and found that symptoms of OCD may appear for the first time following a head injury. Similar to traumatic brain injuries, in some children, symptoms of OCD may begin to appear suddenly following an infection. A common example is pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcus, where children may experience psychiatric conditions including OCD following a streptococcal infection.

Impacts of OCD
One of the defining characteristics of OCD is the impact that it has on the individual’s life. The obsessions or compulsions are, by nature, time-consuming. Some mild to moderate symptoms can cause a person to spend 1–3 hours per day obsessing or performing compulsive acts, but in more severe cases, it can be nearly constant intrusive thoughts or compulsions. As a result, OCD can cause clinically significant distress or impairment in many areas of life, including social, occupational, and physical health. This can significantly reduce the overall quality of life, and the more severe the symptoms, the greater the impairment.

Unfortunately, due to the impact OCD has on a person’s life, the risk for suicide is significantly increased. It is estimated that nearly half of all those diagnosed with OCD will have suicidal thoughts at some point. It is believed that up to 25 percent of those with OCD will attempt suicide.

Although OCD alone can negatively impact one’s life due to the time-consuming nature of the condition and the changes to daily functioning, it is common for those with OCD to have other psychological conditions. One of the most common co-existing conditions with OCD is anxiety. It is estimated that 76 percent of those with OCD have some form of anxiety disorder. Similarly, depression and bipolar disorder are also common alongside OCD.

Management and treatment
Although there is no cure for OCD, it can be managed potentially to the point of remission.

Remission rates vary depending on the treatment course, but estimates range between 32–70 percent for those who seek treatment. Medication is often used in managing symptoms of OCD. However, it can take 8–12 weeks for the medicine to take effect. As a result, it is common to incorporate some form of therapy alongside medication, as therapy can help you learn and develop tools to manage unwanted thoughts and change behavior, as well as help manage emotional distress.

Commonly used therapy approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Other techniques may be employed in some cases but have limited evidence, including deep brain stimulation and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Along with professional help, practicing the coping strategies taught is also important. Creating a self-care routine, meditation and mindfulness technique, and breathing exercises can help manage symptoms as they come. In the long term, these strategies will help reduce feelings of stress and improve the overall quality of life.

Creating a support system is also important. One of the areas of life impacted is social functioning, which can strain relationships, especially familial ones. Opening up to loved ones can help you get the support you need to manage your condition and stay on the right track.

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