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Understanding OCD: A Comprehensive Definition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 11/10/2010

Confused about what exactly constitutes OCD? Read on for a comprehensive definition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as well as causes and risk factors of the disorder.

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    Basic Definition

    Probably the best definition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is "a psychiatric condition in which a person has intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and actions (compulsions). "These two symptoms of OCD - obsessions and compulsions - characterize the disorder. Obsessions include thoughts like "I might have just driven over a man as he crossed the street," "Maybe I forgot to turn off the stove," or "So many people touch elevator buttons, so they must be horribly contaminated." These obsessions are usually the triggers of compulsions, such as going back to check the side of the road dozens of times for a corpse, checking the stove over and over again to make sure it is off, or washing hands over and over again until they are raw and bleeding.

    Obviously, having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder can seriously affect a person's lifestyle and quality of living. For example, a person with OCD may constantly run late due to compulsive checking, avoid social situations so as not to draw attention to her condition, or find it impossible to focus on schooling or work due to intrusive obsessions. Treatment options for OCD include cognitive behavioral therapy, medications like SSRIs, and herbal remedies like St. John's wort.

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    Possible Causes

    Researcher haven't discovered a simple cause for OCD. There are several theories, however, that research seems to support. For example, some studies show that OCD has a biological basis, in which the natural chemistry of the brain or brain function is wired differently. There is also some evidence that OCD may have a genetic component, but no genes have been pinpointed as the source of OCD. It also seems that low levels of serotonin, which sends messages to and from the brain, can cause OCD. This is why people with OCD may take SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, to increase the levels of serotonin in their bodies.

    Some researchers think the environment can also contribute to OCD, especially learned habits that have been picked up over time. Other researchers think that some cases of strep throat can cause childhood OCD, but this research remains under debate.

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    Risk Factors

    If you have family members who have been diagnosed with OCD, you may be at a higher risk for the condition as well. People who undergo very stressful situations and react strongly to them may also develop OCD symptoms when under stress. Pregnant women and women who have just had babies are also at a higher risk of developing OCD, especially with obsessions that revolve around harming the baby. If you have any of these risk factors and are nervous about developing OCD, speak with your doctor about how to avoid developing this disorder.

    As this definition of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder shows, living with OCD can be difficult. Keep in mind however, that many famous people were diagnosed with OCD and went on to live successful lives.

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    References

    http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=4610

    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/DS00189/DSECTION=causes

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