Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a debilitating mental health condition whereby the patient suffers from pervasive, unwanted thoughts resulting in a series of repetitive actions. This combination of obsessions (the thoughts and fears), and compulsions (actions) gives rise to the condition known as OCD. Given the severity of OCD, and the manner in which it interferes with every conceivable aspect of day-to-day life, treatment is essential.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved multiple medications and OCD treatment options. The following antidepressants are currently approved for treating OCD, namely:
- Fluoxetine, commonly known as Prozac.
- Sertraline, known by its brand name Zoloft.
- Clomipramine, otherwise known as Anafranil.
- Paroxetine, otherwise known Pexeva and Paxil.
- Fluvoxamine for use in children at least eight years of age, and adults.
These psychiatric medications have been shown to be highly effective in treating the symptoms of OCD, but they don’t always work with treatment-resistant mental health conditions. Known as psychopharmacology, medications are often the first line of defense against OCD. A combination of tricyclic medications and serotonin reuptake inhibitors comprise the range of treatment options currently available for OCD.
Unfortunately, medications are not without side effects. Patients need to assess the efficacy of antidepressants based on how they are reacting to treatment. If unanticipated symptoms start to develop, it may be necessary to re-evaluate the treatment regimen. Common side effects of medications can include diarrhea, headaches, nausea, fidgeting, insomnia, and sexual dysfunction. However, most side effects stop once medication is discontinued, or once your body adapts to the medication.
Medical professionals stress that the severity of side-effects depends upon the dose of the medication, and the duration of taking the medication. The bigger the dose, the more pronounced the side-effects. Sudden increases in dosage can also have untoward effects with OCD patients. The medications for OCD have a direct effect on the concentration of serotonin in the brain. By regulating the serotonin levels, OCD sufferers can enjoy a modicum of normalcy in day-to-day activities.
Alternative FDA-Approved Treatment Options for OCD
The psychopharmacology route is but one of several options currently available for effectively treating and managing OCD. The FDA has also approved various other measures for treatment-resistant patients. Foremost among them is Deep TMS. Cleared by the FDA as an accepted treatment regimen for OCD back in 2018, Deep TMS is now widely used. Patients undergoing Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation can benefit from a highly effective, nonsurgical, non-invasive, pain-free treatment regimen.
Deep TMS utilizes a specialized, patented helmet with magnetic coils which target problem areas in the brain deeper and broader that are associated with mental health conditions. Deep TMS does not require sedation under anesthesia or recovery. Patients are fully awake while wearing the Deep TMS helmet for their treatment sessions. Typically, patients undergo treatments for 20 minutes – 40 minutes at a time, for 5 days per week, for 6 weeks. Deep TMS can be used in conjunction with other options such as psychopharmacology, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Other options such as Exposure and Response Therapy (ERP) are used to help OCD sufferers overcome their fears and phobias by exposing them to various stimuli. By encouraging patients to interact with anxiety-inducing stimuli, they gradually become used to them. As part of a broader field of study, known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), ERP exposes OCD sufferers to situations, ideas, images, objects, and stimuli that trigger heightened OCD reactions and responses. With ERP, patients train their brains not to respond with compulsive behaviors.
Why it’s Important to Treat OCD
Since OCD has a lifetime prevalence of around 1.6%, and it ranks in the top five most common mental health disorders, treating it has become a top priority for mental health professionals. The severity of OCD varies from person to person. But, there is no doubt that at its worst it is extremely debilitating. OCD can negatively impact productivity, academic ability, interpersonal relationships, and overall health.
A leading expert from the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological health, Carlos Peña had this to say about transcranial magnetic stimulation: ‘Transcranial magnetic stimulation has shown its potential to help patients suffering from depression and headaches… With today’s marketing authorisation, patients with OCD who have not responded to traditional treatments now have another option.’
In the absence of treatment, OCD will result in decreased concentration, productivity, and performance. In a worst-case scenario, untreated OCD can result in the complete incapacitation of the individual, leading to suicidal thoughts. Patients often become so paralyzed with fear, indecision, and anxiety, that they remain housebound. Physical exhaustion, mental stress, and rapid decompensation can result.