Women and OCD

People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) suffer from unwanted thoughts that won’t leave their heads (obsessions). Often time, these intrusive thoughts compel them to repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and routines (compulsions). For example, if people are obsessed with germs or dirt, they may develop a compulsion to wash their hands over and over again. Being afraid of social embarrassment may prompt people with OCD to comb their hair compulsively in front of a mirror-sometimes they get “caught” in the mirror and can’t move away from it. Performing such rituals is not pleasurable. At best, it produces temporary relief from the anxiety created by obsessive thoughts.

About two-thirds of people with OCD experience symptoms before they are 25 years of age. Only 15% experience their first symptoms after age 35. There is strong evidence that the illness has a genetic basis, since about 35% of people with OCD have a close relative who also has the condition. Although 50% to 70% of patients first develop OCD after a stressful life event – such as a pregnancy, a job loss or a death in the family – experts still do not understand exactly how stress triggers the symptoms of this illness.

The time period soon after giving birth carries a greater risk of developing OCD for women. Women who already suffer from obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) are at even greater risk of developing postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder. Men may also develop postpartum OCD soon after their partners deliver.

Therapies for obsessive-compulsive disorder typically consist of medication, psychotherapy or, sometimes, both. OCD responds well to cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy coupled with prescribed medication, usually antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, alleviates the symptoms for most people who suffer from OCD.