Obsessive compulsive disorder

At a party, you had to shake hands with many people, some of them strangers whom you are meeting for the first time. After many handshakes, you feel your hands are dirty and you go to the washroom to wash them. There you touch the handle of the door and now you feel germs are invading your hands. You repeatedly wash your hands with soap, but still the feeling does not go away and your anxiety increases. If you have faced such a situation in your life, then you must be suffering from what is called as an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

About obsessive compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder in which the person keeps having unwanted thoughts repeatedly which are beyond the person’s control. The person keeps performing acts like counting money, washing hands or cleaning repeatedly. When the person wants to control these acts it only results in distress to the person. Obsessive-compulsive disorder affects around 3 million Americans between the ages 18 years to 54 years in both the sexes according to studies.


A theory suggests that obsessive-compulsive disorder is caused due to changes in functioning of your brain. It can also be the result of learning certain habits over a period of time. Obsessive-compulsive disorder can also occur due to low levels of serotonin, which is a chemical in the brain. There is a theory that this disorder occurs in children who have had a strep throat infection but this is not proven.


The person having obsessive-compulsive disorder encounters obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are images, impulses and unwanted thoughts that disturb the person while compulsions are rituals or behavior patterns that the person does repeatedly to get rid of obsessions.


The obsessions that you see in obsessive-compulsive disorder are:

  • Distress when objects are not in order
  • Fear of contamination with germs while shaking hands
  • Visions of causing pain to your child
  • Thoughts of traffic accident caused by you
  • Pornographic images coming to your mind repeatedly
  • Impulse to scream in obscene language
  • Repeated hair pulling causing bald spots
  • Frequent hand washing leading to dermatitis
  • Repeated picking of skin causing lesions

The compulsions that you see in obsessive-compulsive disorder are:

  • Following certain patterns for counting
  • Placing cans with food facing one direction
  • Repeatedly checking if you have switched off the stove
  • Washing hands repeatedly till they hurt.
  • Repeatedly asking someone for their approval
  • Saving unwanted objects like old newspapers

Illnesses associated with Obsessive-compulsive disorder

In people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, you may find that they have fears like fear of flight and fear of insects. You may also find that they have learning disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorder and depression.

The treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder consists of a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

In psychotherapy, you come across cognitive behavior therapy that helps you get rid of unwanted thoughts by retraining your thought patterns. In exposure therapy, which is a part of Cognitive behavior therapy, you are exposed to objects that you fear, and then ways to cope with your anxiety is taught. This therapy may take time but once you learn the techniques to overcome your anxiety, your quality of life will be better.

The medications that are used in treatment are antidepressants, that help to increase levels of serotonin that are usually low in obsessive-compulsive disorder patients. The antidepressants that are commonly prescribed are sertraline, fluoxetin, clomipramine and peroxitine. All medications should be taken only under doctor’s prescription.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder may lead to problems with other members of the family. Hence, family therapy is recommended, where the family members are made to understand the disorder, so that they can help the person suffering from it. Group therapy is also recommended where you interact with other members of the group who are suffering from the same disorder. This way you can get the needed support from others and you will not feel left out. For relief of anxiety you can practice mediation, deep breathing and yoga.