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A Prescription for Healthy Living

In the 1997 hit movie, “As Good As It Gets,” Jack Nicholson plays the role of Melvin Udall, a best-selling novelist who suffers with a condition known as obsessive-compulsive disorder. While the movie is quite funny, and Nicholson does an outstanding job in portraying his troubled character, obsessive-compulsive disorder is no laughing matter.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is a type of mental disorder that can cause a person to have both repeated thoughts (obsessions) and actions (compulsions). Each one of us has certain habits or routines that are engrained into our daily lives and we perform them without even thinking about it. For instance, we brush our teeth before we go to bed, or we make sure the doors are locked at night. But for the person who suffers with obsessive-compulsive disorder, ordinary behaviors can interfere with his or her quality of life. For example, a person with OCD may check the locks multiple times before going to bed while the one without OCD may check the locks only once. Some OCD sufferers will wash their hands repeatedly while others will not even touch the hand of a person they do not know. Most of the people who suffer with OCD are well aware that there is no rhyme or reason to their compulsion or obsession, but they can neither ignore that they exist nor can they stop them.The Obsession

An obsession is a thought or fear that repeats itself over and over in a person’s mind. The person with OCD does not purposely ponder over his particular obsession; in fact, he may even find that he is having these repetitive thoughts disturbing, yet he cannot make them go away. There is no specific pattern or particular time of day that these thoughts might occur. A person may experience obsessive thoughts only once in a while and find them slightly annoying, while others wrestle obsessive thoughts all day every day.

The Compulsion

Compulsive behavior is the by-product of obsessive thought patterns. Obsessive thoughts often spark feelings of anxiety. As a result, compulsive behavior may manifest in an effort to rid oneself of their unwanted thoughts. For example, a person with obsessive thoughts about germs may wash his hands repeatedly to the point of pain until the obsessive thoughts begin to wane. Performing these various rituals may make the anxiety go away temporarily, but once those feelings of anxiety return, the OCD behavior repeats itself all over again.

Some obsessions may include:
• Germs
• Order
• Cleanliness
• Hygiene
• Performance
• Reputation

Some common compulsions include:
• Personal hygiene such as repeated hand washing, showering or brushing teeth
• Making sure drawers have been closed, appliances turned off, locks engaged and alarm clocks set
• Repeated actions such as sitting down and rising from a chair, repeated touching of an object
• Arranging items in a certain way
• Repeatedly counting to a certain number
• Hoarding
• Always looking for approval

Treatment

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be controlled with some of the same medications that are prescribed for depression, including clomipramine, fluoxetine, sertraline, paroxetine and fluvoxamine. Side effects from these medications may include dry mouth, nausea and drowsiness. Some of these medications may also have sexual side effects. You may have to take the medication for a few weeks before you achieve maximum results; however, you may begin to notice subtle improvements after only a few weeks.

When facilitated by a trained counselor, behavior therapy is another effective way of treating obsessive-compulsive disorder. In these therapy sessions, a person must first confront the known triggers of their obsessive thoughts and anxiety and then they are encouraged to avoid the repeated behaviors they usually perform in order to get control of their anxious feelings. For instance, the germaphobe may be encouraged to use a public restroom and wash his or her hands only once. This method should not be used if the person who has OCD is not able to tolerate the resulting anxiety that these suggestions may stir up.

Most people who suffer with obsessive-compulsive disorder often wrestle with other types of anxiety that may manifest in the form of phobias or panic attacks. Most people with OCD may also have depressive disorder, attention deficit disorder, eating disorder, or a learning disorder such as dyslexia. If you have one or more of these disorders, it may be initially difficult to diagnose and treat; therefore it is important that you speak with your healthcare provider as soon as you notice any unusual symptoms. It is natural to experience feelings of embarrassment due to the fact that you are unable to maintain control of your thoughts or actions, but help is available, and the right medication may relieve you of your suffering once and for all.

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