A Psychiatric Disorder with a Biologic Basis: OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a psychiatric disorder with a biologic basis. It includes intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive rituals (compulsions). The obsessions produce anxiety while the compulsions reduce anxiety. Anxiety is defined as a “hyperalert state causing excessive autonomic arousal and diminished coping” (1). The obsessions are repetitive thoughts the person cannot keep from having that can include ideas, urges to do something, or images. The compulsions can include excessive hand washing triggered by on obsessive concern about germs. Or, the person may feel constantly unsafe and have to repeatedly check their safety, such as repeatedly making sure that the doors are locked or that the stove has been turned off.
The cause of OCD is a neurochemical imbalance in the brain, so medication can be an important part of treatment. It is the fourth most common psychiatric problem in America, occurring as frequently as schizophrenia. 5 million people in the United States have OCD, just about equally divided between males and females. Although OCD is sometimes treated lightly, it is a serious disorder.
Up to 92% of people with it say it has interfered with important relationships, and nearly 60% report that it decreased either schoolwork or with their jobs. Daily patterns are affected by the repetitive nature of compulsions or because the person tries to avoid situations that trigger their OCD responses. Three different neurotransmitters have been implicated in OCD: nor epinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. Because neurotransmitters are involved, medication can often help in the management of OCD.

Diagnosis is based on the individual’s symptoms and can include interview, observation, the use of questionnaires, and reports from family members regarding the person’s difficulties.
In addition to medication, education and brief counseling can help the individual understand his or her disorder. Cognitive therapy can help the individual use logic and rational thinking to combat the effects of OCD.

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