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Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in Women   

Malibu Vista is well-known for high-quality treatment of anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder. Also known as OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder is a form of anxiety disorder that produces repetitive, obsessive states of mind and repetitive, compulsive behaviors that stem directly from those states of mind. Roughly 1 to 2 percent of Americans will develop a clinically serious form of the disorder during the course of their lives. OCD manifests somewhat differently in women than it does in men. Specifically, women tend to develop the disorder a little later in life than men, have different OCD-related symptoms and also have certain gender-related risk factors for the onset or worsening of OCD.

OCD Basics

No one knows precisely what causes OCD, the Mayo Clinic reports. However, several factors may play a role in its onset. For instance, the disorder tends to pass through family bloodlines and may have a genetic component. People with OCD may also have unusually low levels of a brain chemical called serotonin, or low levels of certain other brain chemicals. In addition, some people with the disorder may pick up behavioral cues from relatives or other individuals and develop OCD through environmental exposure.

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Obsessive states of mind in people with OCD can manifest as thoughts, sensations, ideas or feelings. Whatever their specific form, these repetitive mental states typically appear against the will of the affected individual, who struggles to control them. Common OCD-related obsessions include:

  • A need to maintain orderly surroundings
  • Fear of coming into contact with dirt or other contaminating substances
  • Recurring aggressive impulses
  • Recurrence of horrifying mental imagery
  • Recurring sex-related thoughts or mental imagery

OCD-related compulsions are behaviors typically performed in order to ease or reduce obsessive states of mind. Common forms of these behaviors include repetitive hand washing, repetitive counting and detailed arranging of items based on a need for symmetry or specific ordering. When prevented from engaging in these compulsive activities, people with OCD frequently experience an increase in their anxiety levels, and sometimes develop full-blown panic attacks.

OCD affects different people in different ways. Not all people with the disorder develop both obsessive and compulsive symptoms; some people develop only obsessive symptoms, while others develop only compulsive symptoms. Also, while all people with an official OCD diagnosis have symptoms serious enough to disrupt some aspect of daily life, the intensity of symptoms can vary greatly from person to person. In some cases, people with OCD experience debilitating symptoms that prevent them from participating in most forms of social interaction.

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Gender-Related Age of Onset

Most people with OCD experience their first symptoms before they turn 25, and many people develop the disorder before or during their teenage years. Among children and teens with obsessive-compulsive disorder, girls typically develop symptoms later than boys; the average age of onset is roughly 9 to 10 for boys and 11 for girls. In addition, boys may have a higher overall OCD rate than girls. However, this gender imbalance reverses in adulthood when the disorder occurs more frequently in women than men.

Symptoms of OCD in Women

Symptoms of OCD vary by gender. Generally speaking, boys and men primarily develop compulsive symptoms, which may or may not be accompanied by obsessive symptoms. Girls and women, on the other hand, tend to develop either obsessive symptoms in isolation, or roughly equal amounts of both obsessive and compulsive symptoms. Both men and women with OCD frequently develop symptoms related to sexual obsession or sexual compulsion. For women, these symptoms tend to manifest as a high degree of disgust toward sexual activity, limited sexual arousal and limitations on the amount of pleasure experienced during sexual encounters.

Risk Factors for OCD in Women

Some women with OCD experience an increase in symptom severity in the week leading up to monthly menstruation. In all likelihood, this increase is the result of hormonal changes that occur during this time. In addition, women without OCD have higher chances of developing some form of the disorder after childbirth. The highest risks for this type of post-pregnancy OCD appear in women who already have a condition called obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, or OCPD. People with this disorder have a preoccupation with controlling their environments, creating and/or following rules and maintaining orderliness in their surroundings. However, unlike people with OCD, people with OCPD don’t view their obsessive or compulsive symptoms as hindrances or problems; instead, they feel that their symptoms are not symptoms at all, and merely reflect the way in which reality should work.

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