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Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) - Treatment

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a treatable condition.

The type and course of treatment will depend on your own situation and circumstances. You and your healthcare professional can talk about this and agree on the right treatment options for you.

The two main treatments types are:

  • psychological therapy - helps you understand OCD and learn new ways of coping
  • medication - usually an antidepressant, changes the balance of chemicals in your brain

One or both of these may be best for you. Your healthcare professional will help you decide.

Psychological therapy

The most effective treatment for OCD is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps you manage your problems by thinking more positively. It frees you from unhelpful patterns of behaviour.

Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is a type of CBT that is used to treat OCD. 

You learn to understand the triggers for your thoughts and behaviours.

It allows the obsessive thoughts occur without neutralising them with compulsive behaviours. This is called graded exposure. 

You start with situations that cause you the least anxiety first. You do this before moving onto more difficult thoughts. 

The treatment can be difficult and may sound frightening, but people do get better.

Related topic

Read more about CBT and talking therapies

Medication

You may need medication to add to your psychological therapy.

The main medications prescribed are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These can help by increasing the levels of a chemical called serotonin in your brain.

You may need to take the medication for 12 weeks before you notice any effect.

You may need to take medication for at least a year.

You may be able to stop if you have few or no troublesome symptoms after this time. Although some people need to take medication for many years. Your symptoms may continue to improve for up to 2 years of treatment.

Don't stop taking SSRIs without speaking to your doctor first. Giving up SSRIs can cause unpleasant side effects. To reduce the chance of this happening, treatment should end gradually . Your doctor may need to increase the dose again if your symptoms return.

Side effects

Possible side effects of SSRIs include:

  • feeling agitated, shaky or anxious
  • feeling or being sick
  • diarrhoea or constipation
  • dizziness
  • sleeping problems
  • headaches
  • low sex drive

There's also a very small chance that SSRIs could cause you to have suicidal thoughts or want to self-harm. Contact your GP or go to your nearest emergency department (ED) if this happens.

Most side effects improve after a few weeks as your body gets used to the medication. Although some can persist.

Further treatment

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist OCD service if other treatments have not worked. OCD support groups

Many people with OCD find support groups helpful, as they can:

  • provide emotional support and coping advice
  • reduce feelings of isolation
  • offer a chance to socialise with others
  • provide information and advice for family members and friends

Your GP and mental health service can provide information about support groups in your area.

OCD Ireland

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE.

page last reviewed: 21/03/2019
next review due: 21/03/2022

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