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If you have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and are considering therapy for it, you might be wondering whether it can truly cure your condition. This article will discuss OCD, its treatment options, and whether or not they can cure it.

As a chronic condition, OCD is impossible to fix; for most people, it cannot be cured completely. However, the good news is that during the past few decades, professional treatment for this psychiatric issue has progressed to the extent that it can help manage it significantly.

While there may or may not be a cure for OCD, therapy and medication can help control obsessions and compulsions so that they do not affect your daily life. For many, complete remission occurs, while the rest may experience an overall reduction in the frequency and severity of their symptoms.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a psychiatric issue comprising obsessive thoughts followed by compulsive behaviours. While there are many proposed definitions for this disorder, the above description is universally agreed upon as it highlights its two main features.

But what do obsessive thoughts mean, especially regarding OCD? The World Health Organisation defines these as unwanted, intrusive, or adverse thought content that may force people to focus their attention on something they find unpleasant. The four most familiar themes associated with OCD include:

  • Contamination and cleanliness
  • Taboo imagery and thinking, associated with subjects that are considered morally blasphemous, reprehensible, or rejected by the society
  • Counting, ordering, and organisation of different items
  • Catastrophising a tragic event happening to self or a loved one

Worrying too much about the topics mentioned above causes individuals with OCD a high level of frustration and anguish. These emotions deplete their energy levels and lower their mental and emotional reserves.

The other side of OCD includes compulsive thinking or behaviour that forces people to commit certain acts to rid themselves of these compulsions. For example, someone who obsessively imagines their loved ones being attacked by a group of robbers may develop the habit of snapping their fingers to get rid of these thoughts. While these compulsive behaviours are initially adopted as a way to self-soothe from obsessive thinking, they cease to impose a calming effect on the brain with time. Instead, they incorporate into the very order they were meant to save a person from. Consequently, the afflicted may be compelled to snap their fingers whenever they imagine their family being robbed without getting any calming benefit from this act.

Several long-term studies suggest that up to 70 per cent of people diagnosed with OCD experience symptom remission. These statistics are encouraging and suggest recovery as an achievable goal for many with this disorder. A typical treatment approach for OCD includes the following:

Medication

Several medications have been approved by health authorities to overcome OCD UK. Most of these drugs belong to a specific category of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Although famous for managing depression, these medications are equally effective in treating OCD and other anxiety disorders too. They aim to correct the chemical imbalances in an OCD-struck brain by enhancing the number of serotonin neurotransmitters in the central nervous system.

Professionals suggest undergoing augmentation therapy for someone who has tried the standard OCD medication but has not succeeded in overcoming their symptoms. This therapy incorporates a strategy to improve the chances of relieving the symptoms of the underlying psychiatric disorder while taking medication side by side. Augmentation therapy relies on a combination of drugs instead of a single medication to enhance the overall therapeutic effect.

Psychotherapy

The most effective treatment to cure OCD is cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), with a special emphasis on the element of exposure and response prevention (ERP). In this combined psychotherapy session, patients learn to navigate their experiences differently, confront their fears, and choose different behaviours responding to compulsive feelings, sensations, and thoughts.

Regular sessions of CBT with ERP can also help you:

  • Understand that thinking is behaviour, and thinking about your experience in different ways can make you more or less likely to use effective responses
  • Identify that having unwanted sensations, feelings, and thoughts does not make you a bad person. These experiences are a part of human nature, and blaming yourself for having them is a symptom of your OCD
  • Practice how to stay with your urges and observe them. Doing so makes you witness the dynamic nature of these urges and helps you stop responding to them compulsively.
  • Open up about your unwanted feelings and thoughts, embrace them, and even celebrate them, as doing so allows them to freely pass through your mind instead of keeping them stuck in the brain.
  • Learn how to appreciate yourself for who you are instead of committing every waking moment to suppress your unwanted feelings and thoughts

All of the above are desired outcomes of CBT and ERP. For a significant number of OCD sufferers, these outcomes are truly accessible and result in reducing the symptoms and other factors that define having OCD. So you might presume that this means CBT with ERP cures the disorder because it disqualifies you from meeting the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of the disorder.

Miscellaneous Treatments

Estimates suggest that up to 40 per cent of people with diagnosed OCD do not respond well to the treatment options explained above. For such people, experts resort to choosing other less common treatment modalities. Some of these options include:

  • Deep brain stimulation
  • Electroconvulsive therapy
  • Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation

Evidence suggests that treatments targeting specific brain circuits can potentially reduce the OCD symptoms in unresponsive individuals to the first-line therapies. Deep brain stimulation is worth considering in this aspect.

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has also been studied as a possible alternative treatment method for OCD. So far, the evidence regarding its efficacy offers mixed reviews. Neurosurgery also remains an option with procedures like cingulotomy and capsulotomy, in which experts create lesions on specific brain areas. These procedures are used only when all remaining treatment options have failed to provide sufficient relief.

In addition to seeking professional treatment, there are certain steps you can take to manage the symptoms of OCD on your own. These include the following:

Diet and Exercise

Abnormal blood sugar levels can significantly affect your energy levels and mood. Hence, try eating healthy and nutritious foods to keep them stable and give your body the nutrients it needs to stay strong. Physical activity is equally important in improving mental and physical health. To keep yourself physically active, consider engaging in the following activities:

  • Swimming
  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • Dance
  • Chair-based experiences, especially for people with mobility issues

Relaxation

Anxiety and stress only make the OCD symptoms worse and harder to manage. Hence, practice relaxation exercises to keep the stress levels to a minimum. An essential part of relaxation is ensuring you get enough sleep every night. If you are struggling with insomnia or a disturbed sleep-wake cycle, talk to a healthcare provider about what you can do about it.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness has proven to be highly effective in supporting recovery from OCD. Its basic concept and principles are routinely woven into CBT as well. However, you can also practice these principles on your own at home by participating in the following activities:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Meditation
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Guided imagery
  • Breathing exercises

Social Support

Even if you are not willing to talk openly about your struggles with OCD, spending some time with family and friends can make you feel more supported and comfortable. Additionally, you may join an OCD support group to get additional benefits. A support group can:

  • Give you a platform to socialise with others who face similar issues and can understand your experiences better
  • Help you feel less isolated
  • Provide reassurance and advice for managing OCD
  • Offer information or resources to you and your loved one to understand and manage OCD in a better way

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