Does OCD Go Away?

Posted on October 17, 2022

woman in therapy for ocd

A common and chronic disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, affects about 2.5 million (or 1.2%) U.S. adults, according to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH). Of that number, a little more than half experience severe impairment because of the disorder. OCD may start in childhood, with symptoms varying in severity throughout a person’s life. Typically, symptoms will worsen during times of stress. Women are slightly more likely to have OCD than men.

One symptom of OCD is obsessions or uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts. The other potential symptom is compulsions or behaviors that the individual has the urge to repeat over and over. Someone living with OCD may have one or the other or both symptoms. Someone who occasionally has a negative thought or bites their nails does not have OCD. Those are simply habits.

The symptoms of OCD can take up at least an hour a day of the person’s time. They are powerless to control the symptoms, and the disorder interferes with all facets of their life — social, work, and more — and has no cure.

Signs of OCD

The symptoms of OCD often interfere with a person’s life, causing distress. Trying to stop these obsessions or compulsions, or ignoring them, without help typically only increases a person’s stress and anxiety. As a result, the individual may find themselves compelled to engage in even more behaviors to ease their stress, creating a vicious cycle.

The first step towards managing OCD is recognizing the signs of both symptoms. Obsessive signs include:

  • Fear of contamination from touching objects touched by others
  • Doubts that the person has locked the door or turned off the stove
  • Feeling intense stress if things aren’t orderly or facing a certain way
  • Images of driving their car into a crowd of people
  • Thoughts about shouting obscenities or acting inappropriately in public
  • Unpleasant sexual images
  • Avoiding situations that can trigger obsessions, such as shaking hands

There are often themes with obsessive symptoms, such as a fear of dirt or a need for orderliness. The same is true with compulsions. They may reflect such themes as counting or following a strict routine. Examples include:

  • Handwashing until the skin becomes raw
  • Checking doors repeatedly to make sure they’re locked
  • Checking the stove repeatedly to make sure it’s off
  • Counting in certain patterns
  • Silently repeating a prayer, word, or phrase
  • Arranging your canned goods to face the same way

Some people with OCD also display a tic behavior. These can be motor or verbal tics. Motor tics range from eye blinking to facial grimacing, shoulder shrugging to head or shoulder jerking. Examples of vocal tics are repetitive throat-clearing or sniffing.

OCD is Not Curable

Unfortunately, no cure will eliminate a person’s OCD. However, treatment can help significantly reduce the signs and symptoms for many people. OCD treatment typically includes medication and psychotherapy or a combination of both.

Medications to manage OCD symptoms include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs have been effective in reducing many people’s OCD symptoms. If SSRIs prove ineffective, some individuals have found help via antipsychotic medication.

For many people living with OCD, therapy offers help. Therapy may be as effective as medications for some. Types of psychotherapy that help include cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and other related therapies, such as habit reversal training.

One particular type of CBT called Exposure and Response Prevention (EX/RP) has shown promise in reducing compulsive behaviors, even for those who did not respond well to SSRI medication. EX/RP works by having the individual spend time in the very situation that triggers their compulsions, but it prevents them from undertaking the usual compulsion. For example, they may be asked to touch a dirty object, but then they are prevented from washing their hands.

Relaxation techniques may assist in managing OCD as well. These techniques include yoga, meditation, and massage. If therapy and medication are not helping, the person may consider neuromodulation, which uses devices to change the electrical activity in a specific brain area. One type of this treatment is transcranial magnetic stimulation. Approved by the FDA for OCD treatment, this method uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells. Another, more complicated option is deep brain stimulation. This treatment implants electrodes into the head.

If a person finds that obsessions and compulsions negatively impact their life, they should discuss them with their doctor to determine if they might have OCD. Individuals with other mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, or body dysmorphic disorder, should be sure to share these conditions, as it can affect how their OCD is treated.

A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.

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