A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

OCD: When recurrent thoughts and rituals consume your life

Illustration - Variety of household appliances and fixtures - OCD

Some OCD obsessions get so bad people will leave the house to go to work and feel they need to return because one particular thought is so overwhelming.

Have you ever met someone who must have everything perfectly arranged? Whether it’s having the remote control a certain way or napkins folded and set the same, it can be easy to say people like this are “OCD.”

However, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is serious and can affect people their entire life. It consists of more than needing to place something perfectly on a table.

What is OCD?

OCD is an anxiety disorder that causes people to suffer from recurrent, unwanted thoughts or rituals they cannot control. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 3.3 million people are diagnosed with OCD yearly. It usually begins in early childhood or adolescence.

“People will have recurrent thoughts or behaviors that will interfere with their daily functioning,” said Michael Field, a behavioral health nurse practitioner at Marshfield Clinic. “For example, someone will say I have thoughts after curling my hair that I didn’t unplug the curler. So they check it three times or they don’t feel relaxed enough to leave the house.”

Field says people get into a pattern of needing to check something the same number of times every day to relieve their stress. Some obsessions get so bad people will leave the house to go to work and feel they need to return because one particular thought is so overwhelming. This creates a debilitating anxiety if a certain ritual is not completed by that person.

“Many rituals have to deal with appliances,” Field said. “Things like checking gas stoves to make sure they’re off or obsessing about locking the door to the house.”

How to help someone with OCD

Two main types of treatment options are available for OCD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), are used to treat OCD, depression and other anxiety disorders. Field says the best way to manage OCD symptoms is with a combination of medication and behavioral therapy.

“You can get the symptoms under control, even though sometimes they don’t go away completely,” Field said. “Through treatment, the symptoms and behaviors can become much more manageable and not so intrusive into one’s life.”

Field stresses parents should watch for unusual behaviors their children are developing.

“When you’re a parent, you’ll often see the behavior before the child will share with you that they are having obsessive or constant thoughts about something.” Field said. “Things like checking the doors or other ritualistic behaviors should prompt you to ask your child about a heightened sense of anxiety that might be overwhelming them.”

For questions or concerns about OCD, talk with your doctor about an assessment.

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