As many as one in every fifty adults struggle with some form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, and twice as many people have dealt with OCD at some point in their lives. OCD sufferers describe their condition as “mental hiccups” that force them to retrace their steps or pursue imaginary investigation. Through no fault of their own, OCD patients often lose the ability to process information efficiently.
Researchers have not determined a specific cause for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, although we now believe this condition is caused when different parts of the brain lose the ability to communicate effectively with each other. Therefore, diagnosis of OCD can only take place after careful observation of a patient’s symptoms.
Signs and Symptoms
OCD manifests itself as sufferers attempt to deal openly with both obsessions and compulsions. The obsessions begin when a sufferer experiences thoughts or images that seem to repeat themselves. Although the sufferer wants those ideas to stop popping up, they keep repeating. OCD sufferers can become extremely frustrated, because they realize that these impulses are irrational.
Common obsessions include excessive worry about dirt, germs or diseases. Other sufferers report excessive feelings of guilt for events that have not actually happened, such as car accidents that never took place. OCD sufferers experience the same levels of fear, guilt, and shame that healthy individuals experience, though their reactions usually have no basis in reality. As their condition worsens, sufferers often become anxious about broken routines.
People with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder perform compulsions in fruitless attempts to eradicate their fears and obsessions. Many OCD sufferers develop elaborate rules to follow, which can sometimes get stuck in a loop. For example, an OCD sufferer who believes that she might have caused a car accident might repeatedly circle the block looking for evidence. Patients in hospitals have been observed washing their hands repeatedly until their skin became raw, and they had to be restrained.
OCD sufferers gain no pleasure or comfort from their actions. Because they remain aware of the disconnection between their actions and reality, they often suffer spiralling feelings of shame and helplessness. Some people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can respond to their condition by “losing insight,” or ignoring the futility of their actions. As their conditions worsen, OCD sufferers can perform poorly at work and risk alienating friends and family members.
Treatments for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Doctors attempt to deal with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by treating it in two phases. First, they attempt to manage the patient’s current episode of OCD behaviour. After they succeed, they address long-term maintenance and prevention of future relapses.
Doctors rely on education and enlightenment to help OCD patients break their own cycles. Once a patient can admit that their fears have little or no basis in reality, they can start to modify their behaviour. Many therapists expose patients to the things or situations that they fear the most, to assure them that the expected negative consequences never occur.
Therapists also prescribe medications that increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. This powerful chemical messenger can compensate for problems in the brain’s pathways, allowing OCD patients to regain control of their thoughts, emotions, and actions. Unfortunately, some prescription medications produce negative side effects, including nausea, nervousness, insomnia, and diarrhoea. Some patients find themselves trading one set of problems for another while undergoing OCD treatment.
Some OCD specialists have integrated natural therapies into their treatment plan, because many herbal solutions can increase serotonin levels without the extreme side effects of prescription medication. Green tea mixed with herbs that contain amino acids can replace some of the missing chemical messengers in the brain.
Patients reach a major milestone when they resume normal sleep and dreaming patterns, usually about two to three months after beginning treatment. Many OCD patients can leave treatment altogether after about nine months. Because behavioural therapy plays a major role in recovery for OCD sufferers, there is no specific potion that can eliminate symptoms overnight. Maintaining a strong wellness regimen during and after therapy can prevent future OCD episodes.
OCD symptoms can recur at any time in a patient’s life. Therefore, patients can help themselves stay in control by following a few dietary guidelines. Because caffeine can reduce serotonin levels in the brain and cause chemical imbalances in OCD patients, doctors recommend eliminating caffeine from the diet. OCD patients should gradually switch to decaffeinated alternatives to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Many herbal teas can provide even more beneficial effects for an OCD sufferer than coffee, tea, or soft drinks.
Although it may sound counterintuitive, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder sufferers may sometimes need to raise their cholesterol levels to overcompensate for a lack of key substances in the brain. Researchers recommend cholesterol levels above 170 to keep the brain functioning well, but below 208 to prevent heart disease.
Herbalists recommend combining a comprehensive multivitamin that contains the minimum daily requirement of vitamin B complex with a tablespoon of flaxseed oil. The combination of vitamins with the restorative properties of the oil can nourish key nerves in the brain.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can rob a person of their dreams and desires. Family and friends should also seek counselling to understand how best to cope with their loved one’s condition. A supportive environment for recovery can radically speed up a patient’s recovery.