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Will OCD Get Worse?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly referred to as OCD, can be a debilitating mental health concern for the millions of people who have it. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) estimates that the disorder affects roughly 2.2 million adults, which translates to 1.0 percent of the U.S. population. The typical onset of OCD is age 19, but 25 percent of cases occur by age 14. Nearly one-third of adults affected by the disorder experienced symptoms in childhood. 

OCD is considered a long-lasting disorder in which someone has uncontrollable or recurring obsessive thoughts and behaviors. They possess an urge to repeat these over and over. Of the adults the National Institute of Mental Health surveyed in the past year, the degree of impairment ranges from mild to severe. 

Among these adults with the disorder, approximately 50.6 percent of them had a serious impairment, whereas 34.8 percent of adults had a moderate impairment. The same survey showed 14.6 percent had mild impairment.

What Is OCD?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is characterized by compulsions and obsessions that can take up to an hour a day, but usually longer, and cause a significant amount of distress. These obsessions can be persistent, and the uncontrollable thoughts or impulses are often intrusive and disturbing. 

It often causes anxiety and discomfort that interfere with one’s daily life. An individual who doesn’t struggle with OCD can filter out their recurring thoughts about germs, but people with OCD do not have the same luxury. They believe they are contaminated, and in some cases, they will avoid public places altogether. 

Those with the disorder will feel compelled to perform repetitive actions or rituals as a means to relieve the distress caused by their obsessions. An example of this is someone with an obsessive fear of burglars who will check and recheck the door locks several times over to ensure no one can get into their home. 

The compulsions are overt, which means they are visible to everyone. Unfortunately, these may also be carried out mentally, such as counting or mental praying. While we cannot observe these, they can be just as debilitating as those we can see.

Most of those struggling with OCD are aware of their obsessions and that they are thinking or behaving irrationally. But they also think the only way to fix their anxiety is to perform compulsions. The relief they may experience, unfortunately, is only temporary and will end up reinforcing their obsession. This creates a cycle of OCD behavior that will gradually worsen.

Unfortunately, many people with OCD will struggle in silence. Many of them are unaware that a neurological problem causes the symptoms. OCD can be managed with the appropriate treatment, but unfortunately, many of these individuals will turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their symptoms and function normally. 

Does OCD Get Worse?

Most people who experience mild-to-moderate symptoms of OCD will learn to live with the inconveniences of their obsessive thought patterns and compulsive actions. In many cases, these individuals will rationalize their repetitive behaviors as not that bad, or that these are helping them succeed in their daily routine. Since these behaviors do not interfere with work or school, they see no issue with leaving it untreated.

However, if these symptoms are left untreated, they can become worse over the years. In some cases, they can become so debilitating that an individual will completely isolate themselves from society. Some of these worsening symptoms may include:

  • Loss of focus at work
  • Failure at school
  • Complete isolation
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Emotional exhaustion
  • Panic attacks

Early-onset of OCD during the adolescent years has a 60 percent chance of becoming a lifelong disease if it is left untreated. In most cases, however, OCD symptoms will dissipate throughout one’s life, but others will be classified as chronic. The only way to know for sure is to seek help from a physician who specializes in mental health. Mental health screenings are just as vital as a yearly checkup at the doctor to determine the status of your physical health.

What Are the Symptoms of OCD?

The obsessions of OCD are persistent and repeated. The urges or images that are intrusive will cause distress and anxiety, and you may try to ignore them or get rid of them by performing a compulsive behavior or ritual. The obsessions more commonly intrude when you are trying to think of or do other things. Some of these obsessions have themes, and according to the Mayo Clinic, they include:

  • Needing things to be symmetrical or orderly
  • A fear of dirt or contamination
  • Unwanted thoughts that may include aggression or sexual subjects
  • Horrific thoughts that may consist of harming yourself or other people

The Mayo Clinic also mentions obsession signs and symptoms, which include:

  • Intense levels of stress when an object isn’t orderly or facing a specific way
  • Fear of contamination by touching objects others have touched
  • Continual doubt that you’ve turned off the stove or locked the door
  • Unwanted images of hurting yourself or someone else that make you uncomfortable
  • Distress about unpleasant sexual images that repeat in your mind
  • Avoiding situations that may trigger obsessions, such as shaking hands

If you are experiencing these symptoms at any level, you should speak to a therapist or mental health counselor for guidance. Medications can be highly effective in treating these symptoms.

Sources

Facts & Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd.shtml

Anxiety Disorders. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

Panic Disorder: When Fear Overwhelms. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/panic-disorder-when-fear-overwhelms/index.shtml

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). (2016, September 17). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obsessive-compulsive-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20354432

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