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Essential Facts about OCD

written by: Alicia Miller • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 5/6/2011

If you've seen "As Good As It Gets," you're already familiar with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In this article, you'll learn some of the most compelling facts about this unusual mental health condition.

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    1) Anxiety Disorder

    One of the most interesting facts about obsessive compulsive disorder is that it is classified as an anxiety disorder by the American Psychiatric Association's "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," - the standard handbook used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental illness. People who suffer from OCD experience obsessive, anxiety-provoking thoughts that lead them to perform compulsive behaviors designed to relieve this anxiety.

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    2) Linked With Serotonin

    Serotonin is one of the key neurotransmitters produced by your brain. It is responsible for the transmission of nerve impulses, mood regulation, and has an influence on most of your body's major systems, including the cardiovascular and neurological systems. Studies have shown that abnormal levels of serotonin may be responsible for the development of OCD.

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    3) Not Gender Specific

    OCD affects men and women equally. The average age at onset is in the mid-twenties to early thirties, although it can occur somewhat earlier in men.

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    4) Relatively Common

    According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, OCD was thought to be rare at one point. However, research has shown that OCD affects around 3% of the population between the ages of 18 and 54.

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    5) Common Obsessions

    As an anxiety disorder, OCD is rooted in fear. Most common obsessions, or thoughts, revolve around an intense, usually irrational, fear of a specific object, idea or place. The most common obsessions include a fear of germs, a fear of thinking evil or harmful thoughts, an abnormal disgust or preoccupation with bodily fluids and waste, and obsessive thinking about specific numbers, phrases or words.

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    6) Common Compulsions

    The compulsive behavior associated with OCD is a direct result of the uncontrollable, obsessive thoughts. The most common compulsions include obsessive hand-washing and cleaning, checking behaviors, such as repeatedly checking to make sure you've turned off the stove or locked the front door, constantly ordering things, hoarding, and repetitive actions, such as opening and closing a door many times in a row in order to prevent something bad from happening. Unfortunately, although compulsions are designed to bring about some sort of relief from anxiety, this relief is usually temporary, creating and reinforcing the repetitive cycle of obsessions and compulsions.

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    7) Comorbidity

    One of the most fascinating facts about obsessive compulsive disorder is that it often exists in conjunction with other anxiety disorders such as phobias, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disorders or eating disorders.

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    8) It's Treatable

    If you or someone you know suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, you may feel that the situation is hopeless. However, OCD is often effectively treated using a combination of psychotherapy, usually in the form of cognitive-behavioral treatment, and medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which help to maintain a stable level of serotonin the brain.

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    American Academy of Family Physicians: Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

    Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV); American Psychiatric Association; 2000

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