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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder- What It Is and How it Manifests

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a neurochemical disease characterized by chronic and uncontrollable thoughts, as well as attendant behaviors that are repeated time and again, in order to somehow satisfy the anxiety plaguing its sufferers. The brain chemical that most directly affects the presence and severity of this disorder is serotonin. A lack of sufficient serotonin is what causes the repetitive thoughts, referred to as obsessions, as well as the habitual activities and behaviors, called compulsions.

Together, the thoughts and behaviors that are classical markers of this disease prove intrusive, time- consuming, and debilitatingly distracting for people diagnosed with OCD. In essence, individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder agonize over the neverending thoughts that lead them to pursue practices and activities that will never truly quell their anxiety.

Rituals and seemingly rote performance of the most mundane of activities, handwashing for example, can not only affect the mental health and well being of the individual trying to make sense of their disorder, but can lead others to shy away from what looks like rather strange behavior. People with OCD may not even be able to interact socially, if doing so will interrupt the patterns of behavior that allow for even a modicum of calm, albeit temporarily. Additionally, certain compulsions can cause physical pain. Take for example, hand washing that requires scrubbing with water and soap that causes irritation and bleeding and yet, continues on. This scenario illustrates the physical and mental anguish that is provoked by the obsessions that lead to compulsive, and even harmful behavior.
 
Physical Comorbidities Associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
For some sufferers, OCD and its attendant patterns of conduct can not only ruin social opportunities, but any ability to work, earn a living, live independently, or maintain appropriate, physical health. Left untreated or insufficiently addressed, obsessive compulsive disorder can consume hours upon hours of one’s day, leaving precious few moments to see a doctor. Realistically speaking, repeatedly and obsessively counting tiles in one’s house in order to ensure that each square is lined up symmetrically, does not allow a lot of time for self care.
In line with this thinking, are the results of research published in June 2011 in World Psychiatry, The Official Journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA). In this study, 98 men and women diagnosed with “profound obsessive compulsive disorder” were evaluated. Researchers discovered that 75 of the 98 patients studied were unable to appropriately or safely take care of their hygiene, grooming, and appearance. Additionally, self- neglect was identified by the presence of incontinence in almost half the patients in the study, as well as findings of severe dehydration in nearly 60 percent of participants. Researchers were saddened as well by findings of renal insufficiency, malnutrition and obesity, high cholesterol, and overall poor follow up with any sort of medical or health professional.
 
Because OCD is in large measure due to imbalances in serotonin, it stands to reason that many patients with this disorder also struggle with gastrointestinal diagnoses. This logic is based on the fact that most of our serotonin receptors are housed within the walls of the intestines. Decreased levels of serotonin, paired with an inability to care for oneself because obsessive thoughts and compulsions are making it impossible to focus on why you are experiencing abdominal pain is, simply put, the setup for a perfect storm. Truth be told, similar domino effect situations can easily occur with cardiovascular disease, respiratory ailments, and diseases of the endocrine system, such as those hypothyroidism and diabetes.
 
The Toll Obsessive Compulsive Disorder takes on Social, Financial, and Spiritual Health
 
Obsessive compulsive disorder is far more than a culmination of irritating thoughts that you cannot shake, or behaviors you feel you have to pursue. OCD has other features, some of which include making repetitive sounds, expressing vocal tics, head shrugging, clearing the throat, and eye blinking. While many individuals are not only aware that they are exhibiting these behaviors but want desperately for them to stop, living day to day life can bring on a roaring tide of emotion. In fact, some will self medicate, knowingly or not, by using drugs, alcohol, or food to numb the sadness they feel.

Feeling like you are being held hostage within the confines of behaviors that have come to define you, even in part, can be devastating. And think about it. Becoming homeless or in a situation that is less than safe because you cannot stop grunting or washing the windows may seem like a stretch. Analyzed in pieces however, the process does not seem all that unrealistic. 

An individual who cannot control their thoughts or actions, may experience prolonged sadness that eats away at their self- esteem, makes them less than ideal candidates for social outings, leads them to despair about finding a job, and ultimately lands them in a desperate and broken situation. The anger and isolation they feel can lead to dangerous consequences including self harm, as well as harm of others that may lead to conviction, jail time, and death. Suddenly, it is not that far of a stretch at all.

Treatment options for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
 
Despite the bleak picture that some OCD sufferers face, there is hope, there are treatment options, and life does not have to become a trip down the rabbit hole. Some antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs like Paxil, Zoloft, or Prozac, as well as other types of prescribed medications, are very effective in calming the mind and in turn, decreasing maladaptive behaviors. Meeting with a therapist who understands the diagnosis and the best ways to treat it, can be of invaluable support. Many patients feel shame and embarrassment and sadly, our society sometimes encourages these feelings. Talking to someone who can help you wade through the emotional pain and the prospect of getting your life back together can be a great place to start.
 
Despite the shame and stigma that continue to surround topics related to mental health and mental illness, there are millions of people struggling with OCD. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, there are 2.2 million adults in the United States currently dealing with this diagnosis. OCD is more than a nuisance or set of isolating behaviors. Obsessive compulsive disorder affects the health and welfare of the entire public, some of whom you may be related to or represent. There is no shame, and certainly no reason to be shamed, for thoughts and behaviors that are beyond your brain chemistry’s control.
 
If you need help dealing with a diagnosis or management of obsessive compulsive disorder or any other mental health condition, please contact a professional who can help you. You can also contact Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC’s in Glendale, California to discuss complimentary, supportive care as well as where to turn for additional help.
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