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OCD is short for obsessive compulsive disorder, a psychological condition primarily associated with anxiety and stress. Sufferers often find themselves involuntarily performing ritualistic acts in reaction to disturbing or invasive thoughts. The condition affects at least 2 or 3% of the population, although the number of undiagnosed cases could be significantly higher. Many people with OCD are reluctant to seek professional help for their behavior.
In order to understand OCD, it may help to examine each aspect of the disorder separately. The O represents an obsessive thought process, characterized by recurring and often distressing mental images or ideas. Obsession is the mental component of the condition, and the least visible sign to outsiders. These disturbing images continue to play out in a loop until the sufferer feels an overwhelming need to take action. In one form, called Pure O OCD, the sufferer understands that acting on the obsessive thought would be wrong, and the condition remains in the O stage indefinitely.
Once the stress of the obsessive thought becomes too great, a sufferer feels compelled to take action to relieve the pain. This is the C, or compulsive, element. The compulsion often manifests itself in a ritualistic or repetitive act. If a patient forms obsessive thoughts about blood on his hands, for example, the associated compulsive act may be repetitive hand-washing. Others might obsess over an unlocked car door, leading them to check their vehicles at regular intervals.
A compulsive act cannot readily be controlled by a true OCD sufferer. The imagined blood must be washed off his hands before his life can return to normal. This can lead to hours and hours of irrational behavior.
The D in OCD represents a known psychological disorder, and in the case of obsessive compulsive disorder, the cause remains elusive. Some believe that the obsessive thought loop is caused by a disconnect between thought and action nerve centers. A normal person may think, "I must lock my car," and proceed to perform the complex locking procedure. A person with OCD might think the same thing and promptly not be able to accurately remember whether or not the action has actually taken place. Only when the locking action has been performed enough times will the sufferer make the connection and not experience anxiety.
Treatment for OCD may include both behavioral and cognitive therapies. These treatments may also include anti-anxiety medications, but many clinical psychologists prefer to use behavioral modification alone whenever possible. Therapists may start by creating a safe environment in which the patient can experience the mildest form of "reality shock" possible.
If the sufferer obsesses over sanitation, for example, the therapist may introduce an object with a small speck of dirt visible. This may trigger an obsessive-compulsive reaction at first, but eventually the patient should learn to control his or her irrational thoughts because the dirty object does not match the level of anxiety first created in the sufferer's mind.