OCD 101: What is it, who does it affect, and everything else you need to know

Because it's not just about being tidy

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Pretty much everyone out there has heard of the term OCD, but we're willing to bet a load of them don't really have a full understanding of what the condition means, or of how annoying it is for tidy people to joke that they have it.

So, because there's a lot of misinformation out there about OCD, we've decided to provide a quick run through of what it means, who it affects, and how it can be treated.

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So, what actually is OCD?

In a nutshell, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a condition where a person has obsessive thoughts and makes compulsive decisions.

The term 'obsession' is defined as an unwanted, or unwelcome thought - and the term 'compulsive' refers to a repetitive behaviour that is carried out if an effort to stop the obsessive thought.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

The thing that immediately springs to mind when someone mentions OCD is an unhealthy obsession with cleanliness - but the condition can manifest itself in different ways, with fears about not locking doors and catching diseases from strangers being particularly common.

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The pattern of the disorder has 4 main steps: Obsession, Anxiety, Compulsion, and Temporary Relief - but the whole thing is very much cyclical, with the feeling of Temporary Relief soon giving way to Obsession again.

Some common symptoms to watch out for are:

  • Cleaning and hand-washing
  • Ordering and arranging
  • A need to check things - that doors are locked, taps are not running etc.
  • Counting
  • Constantly checking in on love ones to make sure they're safe
  • Repeating words silently
  • Asking for reassurance
  • Hoarding

Who does it affect?

It's currently estimated that 12 in every 1000 people in the UK are affected by the condition - but it can be hard to make predictions due to the number of undiagnosed people still out there.

The condition affects both males and females equally, and although it's more likely to begin in early adulthood, it can manifest itself at any age.

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What causes it? 

It's hard to say. In some cases the condition tends to run in families, and may be linked to inherited genes that affect the brains development. In other cases, there are no family ties at all.

What's interesting is that brain imaging studies have shown that some people with OCD have different brains to those without - eg. certain parts of the brain have increased activity in them - particularly the areas that deal with emotion. 

How can it be treated?

The good news is that OCD is very much a manageable condition. With treatment, many people will eventually be cured of OCD completely, and plenty others report such a significant reduction in their symptoms that they can enjoy a good quality of life.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a good place to start, with a therapy known as graded exposure with response prevention (bit of a mouthful) being a common tool to help deal with the condition. This basically involves a patient facing their fears without giving into the habit of compulsion.

A medication known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) can also be a great help to people - reducing a patients symptoms by altering the balance of chemicals in the brain.

What you need to know is that OCD doesn't have to rule your life, and that there are options out there to treat it. 

Your thoughts on this? Let us know with a tweet @sugarscape or drop us a comment in the box below.

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