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What is OCD? | Nature of OCD | OC Spectrum Disorders | What Causes OCD | OCD Treatment |
The IOCDF and the OC Foundation of Western PA |

What is OCD?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a recognized psychiatric disorder which consists of recurring thoughts or images that are often felt as negative, painful, and intrusive (obsessions). These thoughts are very hard to ignore and often cause great distress. The obsessions often cause so much anxiety that the person tries to reduce the stress by resorting to rituals or repetitive behavior (compulsions). While everyone may occasionally be plagued with a transient obsession or compulsion, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is sufficiently severe to cause marked distress, be time-consuming, or significantly interfere with the person's normal routine, occupational functioning and usual social activities or relationships.

Nature of OCD

When a person is triggered with an obsession they feel driven to perform a compulsion to reduce their anxiety.  Although this behavior is typically successful in reducing the anxiety initially; over time, the behavior actually reinforces the obsession and worsens the anxiety.  Consequently, this leads to more compulsions, more obsessions, and more anxiety. Obsessions in OCD vary widely from person to person but may include exaggerated fears of contamination, harming fears, sexually inappropriate thoughts, doubting, or religious fears.

  • This disorder often manifests in childhood but it can also strike later in life.
  • It is usually a life-long disorder, but it can be managed.
  • There is often a great deal of self imposed shame surrounding the obsessions which cause people struggling with OCD to hide their symptoms from family, friends, coworkers as well as medical professionals often leading to a delay in diagnosis.
  • Individuals with OCD often experience times where the disorder is relatively quiescent and others when the obsessive thoughts are more intense.

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OC Spectrum Disorders

Some disorders share traits with OCD and are often called “OC Spectrum Disorders”. Many therapists who treat OCD also have expertise in treating these additional disorders. OC Spectrum Disorders include Trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), Pathological Skin Picking, Body Dismorphic Disorder and Compulsive Hoarding.

What Causes OCD

No one knows for sure but evidence indicates that it is biologically based. Often more than one family member is diagnosed with OCD suggesting that a genetic component is a factor in the etiology of this neurobiological disorder. Sometimes OCD appears to strike at random without any familial component. Whatever the “cause” Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a real medical condition.

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OCD Responds to Treatment

OCD treatment has improved drastically over the past 15 years.  A form of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention has been researched extensively and is shown to be very effective.  This form of therapy is focuses on people repeatedly confronting their feared triggers under controlled conditions, with the goal of dissipating the anxiety associated with these fears. People with OCD are taught how to tolerate the accompanying anxiety without resorting to their compulsive behaviors. Furthermore, people with OCD are taught how to challenge and change their thoughts about their obsessions to aid in the exposure process. Psycho education is an essential part of treatment where people with OCD are taught new skills for interpreting their anxiety experience. These skills are then practiced several times a day until the anxiety decreases to an acceptable level.

Medication can also be helpful. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) are the treatment of choice and work by balancing the serotonin in a person’s brain so that they experience less anxiety when triggered, and, in some cases, have fewer obsessions. The medication can be instrumental in successfully participating in Exposure and Response Prevention therapy.

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The IOCDF and the OC Foundation of Western PA

The International OCD Foundation (formerly the Obsessive Compulsive Foundation) provides funding for many promising research projects which advance the understanding of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or lead to more effective treatment methods. Past research has provided information leading to tangible help for individuals struggling with OCD. Research teams continue this work and novel studies are proposed each year.

Both the International OCD Foundation and the OC Foundation of Western PA directly work towards supporting individuals struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and related disorders, their families and the dedicated mental health professionals who treat them. These organizations work to educate the public and health professionals about OCD. Both organizations also work to help individuals find mental health care providers to help them manage this disorder.

The OC Foundation of Western PA concentrates its efforts right here in the local area to improve the lives of anyone whose life has been touched by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

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The OC Foundation of Western PA is affiliated with the International OCD Foundation
Obsessive Compulsive Foundation of Western PA, PO Box 81648, Pittsburgh, PA  15217
(412) END OCD 1 (412) 363-6231
copyright 2010