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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a condition in which people experience unpleasant and distressing thoughts (obsessions) over and over again.

To reduce the anxiety caused by these thoughts, people with OCD often feel that they have to perform certain actions (compulsions). Some people with OCD also have motor or vocal “tics,” such as throat clearing and blinking.

Data from a national study conducted by Harvard Medical School shows that OCD is not uncommon: About 2.3 percent of the population experiences OCD at some point in their life.

OCD is a long-term condition that can interfere with important daily activities, such as work or school, and can also affect relationships.

While there are no cures yet, there are treatments that can help relieve the symptoms of OCD. In this article, we’ll look at what these treatment options entail.

Many people who experience symptoms of OCD never seek treatment, perhaps because symptoms can come and go and their severity can vary throughout life.

With OCD, getting treatment early is often the best course of action. Results tend to be more successful with early intervention and proper care.

The results are also better when treatment is provided by an interdisciplinary health team. This may include doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, and pharmacologists working together to create a treatment plan that meets your individual needs.

For many people, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective way to treat OCD symptoms, with or without medication.

CBT is a type of talk therapy that focuses on identifying and changing unhealthy and unrealistic thought patterns.

If you have OCD, you’re probably familiar with this cycle: You have an intrusive, anxiety-provoking thought. The more you try to control or suppress the thought, the worse the anxiety grows. You may resort to rituals or compulsive behaviors to try to neutralize the threat posed by unwanted thoughts.

With CBT, you and your therapist talk about the thoughts that trigger your anxiety. Can:

  • discuss how likely or realistic your assumptions are
  • restructure thoughts to be healthier and more realistic
  • explore any exaggerated sense of responsibility you may feel
  • Disconnect the thoughts you have from the actions you take.
  • practice accepting thoughts instead of trying to avoid or regulate them

Newer types of CBT include Acceptance and commitment therapy, which helps you see thoughts and feelings, including anxiety, as temporary experiences that don’t need to be controlled.

Learning to detach from your thoughts is a key part of this therapeutic approach, as is committing to a life based on your enduring values ​​rather than fleeting thoughts and feelings.

researchers are finding that online CBT programs can be just as effective for some people as in-person therapy sessions.

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy addresses the fears underlying both obsessions and compulsions. At the beginning of your therapy sessions, your therapist will educate you about OCD and equip you with skills you can use to reduce anxiety.

Your therapist will also help you identify situations and events that trigger obsessive thoughts and anxiety. They will help you determine if these events are related to people, things, places, feelings, or sensory stimuli such as smells or sounds.

Your therapist will usually give you the opportunity to describe the actions you feel compelled to do and how these compulsions relate to the fears you feel. Once you’ve identified your triggers, your therapist will help you rank them according to how bothersome they are.

Over time, you and your therapist will gradually confront each of your fears, starting with the least disturbing one. This will allow you to practice calming down with the skills you have learned.

The goal is that you may be able to reduce your anxiety on your own, which, in turn, may help decrease the need for rituals and compulsions to alleviate your fear.

Not everyone who starts an ERP course sticks with it. But for those who do, investigate shows that ERP can be a very effective method of breaking the connection between obsessive thoughts and compulsions.

If you are diagnosed with OCD, your doctor or health care provider may prescribe medication to help manage your symptoms.

The most effective medications are a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Among the most commonly prescribed are:

  • Paxil (paroxetine)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)
  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • fluvoxamine
  • Celexa (citalopram)

It can take time for these medications to build up in your system to an effective level. Some investigate shows that you can get the best results if you take the drug consistently for a year or more.

The tricyclic antidepressant clomipramine has also been well studied and has been shown to be effective in reducing OCD symptoms. Although effective, the side effects are more extensive for some people.

If you’re taking medication to treat OCD symptoms, it’s important to talk to your health care provider before stopping or reducing the amount you take. Stopping or lowering your dose too quickly can have harmful effects.

With brain stimulation therapy, doctors use magnetic or electrical pulses to change activity in areas of the brain known to affect OCD symptoms.

deep brain stimulation

Scientific evidence on the effectiveness of deep brain stimulation is mixed. Due to the invasive nature of this therapy, most doctors agree that it should only be considered if psychotherapy or medication cannot help reduce OCD symptoms.

With deep brain stimulation, a doctor places a very thin electrode in an area of ​​the brain known to be involved with OCD.

Once the electrode is in place, small electrical pulses can be used to stimulate the brain. If stimulation does not relieve symptoms, the electrode may be removed or reimplanted in another area of ​​the brain.

Brain stimulation therapies have been used to treat OCD since the mid-1980s. Ongoing research allows doctors to more precisely target areas of the brain that are associated with particular symptoms.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a noninvasive brain stimulation technique that shows promise for treating OCD.

With TMS therapy, a doctor sends a current of energy through a magnetic coil that is placed on the head, usually near the forehead. The magnetic pulse that is administered is thought to stimulate nerve cells in the brain that are associated with OCD symptoms.

Currently, TMS is considered a complementary therapy. This means that it is used together with medications to reduce symptoms.

More research is needed to understand how this therapy works and which areas of the brain to target for best results.

OCD can cause a lot of stress. Regardless of the treatment approach you and your health care team decide to take, it can also help to learn more about how to lower your stress levels.

The following stress management techniques are effective ways to help calm the mind and body:

  • meditation
  • mindfulness techniques
  • deep breathing exercises
  • regular exercise
  • adequate sleep

When dealing with a challenging condition like OCD, taking care of your overall health is especially important. Some steps you can take to optimize your health include:

  • eat a healthy and balanced diet
  • stay well hydrated throughout the day
  • exercise for at least 20 to 30 minutes per day
  • Get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • practice gratitude regularly
  • surround yourself with supportive friends and health professionals

Self-care strategies like these can seem like a tall order when you’re dealing with a mental health issue. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your self-care to-do list, it’s okay to pick a healthy habit and practice it when you can.

You don’t have to deal with OCD symptoms on your own. A good therapist can be a transformative and empowering ally.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you decide to find a therapist:

Although many forms of therapy can be completed in 8 to 12 weeks, treating OCD takes time. And when it comes to health care, time often translates into cost.

Most private health insurance plans, including those you can access through your employer, cover some types of mental health care. Some employers also provide employee assistance programs that include counseling on mental health issues.

Medicare Part A, most Medicare Advantage plans (Medicare Part C), and Medicaid offer treatment for mental health conditions.

If you don’t have access to health care coverage, you may want to find a therapist whose fees are based on your income level or who offer a sliding fee scale.

good therapy and the Open Path Psychotherapy Collective both offer search tools that can connect you with therapists who may offer reduced rates. Many community health centers They also provide free or low-cost mental health services.

OCD is a mental health condition with symptoms that can be life-altering. The good news is that there are treatments that can help relieve anxiety, reduce intrusive thoughts, and help control compulsive behaviors.

Behavioral therapies and antidepressant medications are the tried and true treatment methods for OCD. There are also other options that can improve your quality of life, although more research is needed to determine how effective they are.

As you explore treatment options, it’s also important to do what you can to help reduce your stress levels and take good care of your overall health.