Anxiety disorders are some of the most common mental health conditions in the world. There are five main types of anxiety disorders. Generalized anxiety disorders, or GAD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, OCD, are the most common. Approximately 2.5% of U.S. adults have been diagnosed with OCD, and this condition can also impact children and teens. While most people understand that OCD sufferers struggle with obsessions and compulsions, OCD can also cause a range of auditory and tactile hallucinations.
What is OCD?
OCD is a type of anxiety disorder where patients have symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, and in rare instances, hallucinations. These OCD symptoms cause a lot of distress in a person’s life and can prevent them from engaging in regular routines or forming and maintaining close relationships.
Obsessions are thoughts, urges, or mental images that induce fear and disgust in patients. Often, obsessions take on the following themes and motifs:
- Fear of bacteria, sickness, and contamination
- Experiencing intrusive, taboo thoughts
- Having sudden, distressing thoughts of harming others or themselves
- Needing things to be in perfect order or symmetry
These obsessions cause patients to experience intense anxiety. To alleviate this distress, OCD sufferers will engage in compulsions, or rituals, to prevent obsessions or reduce the pain they cause. Unfortunately, this just reinforces OCD symptoms. Compulsions are often excessive but match the obsession that’s precipitated them.
- Continuous handwashing
- Arranging objects in a particular way, such as alphabetically
- Checking things repeatedly, such as a locked door or oven
- Compulsive counting, either out loud or silently
People without OCD may engage in obsessions and compulsions. But what separates people with OCD versus people without the condition are the following characteristics:
- People with OCD can’t control their obsessions or compulsions
- People with OCD often realize their obsessions and compulsions aren’t logical, but can’t stop anyway
- For an official diagnosis, someone with OCD must engage obsessions and compulsions for at least one hour each day
- Performing compulsions doesn’t bring them joy, but alleviates anxiety
- Obsessions and compulsions severely impact their ability to function
In some cases of OCD, a patient may also have what’s known as a tic disorder. These are motor tics that are sudden and repetitive. The patient may blink rapidly to alleviate a distressing thought, jerk their head a certain number of times, or shrug their shoulders. Vocal tics may also occur, where the person sniffs, grunts, or clears their through to prevent an obsession from giving them anxiety.
OCD symptoms may ebb and flow. During times of stress, symptoms may worsen. In these instances, a person with OCD may withdraw socially and begin to isolate themselves as a way to prevent anxious thoughts and feelings. They may feel embarrassed when performing a ritual in public, so avoiding public situations may become a complication of OCD. Turning to drugs and alcohol to cope is also a risk with this disorder. In rare cases, though, distressing hallucinations may occur in untreated OCD.
What are OCD hallucinations?
When people think of mental health conditions where hallucinations are common, they often conjure up images of people struggling with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or psychotic depression. But in OCD, hallucinations are more sensory-related or tactile-related and less auditory or visual in nature – although this does sometimes occur in OCD.
Recent studies conducted on OCD and hallucinations found links between the strength of someone’s sensory obsessions and certain types of hallucinations. The study found that people who had more trouble controlling their urge to perform compulsions experienced stronger sensations related to obsessions. The strength of these sensory hallucinations appeared to be stronger in those who had obsessions related to contamination and cleanliness. People with “vivid imaginations” struggled the most with sensory hallucinations, according to the study.
The study also found that many OCD patients experienced intrusive obsessions as audible voices that shouted at them, spoke, or whispered. Another occurrence the research uncovered was that people with OCD who experienced auditory obsessions also self-reported their normal thoughts as being louder than an average person’s.
The links between severe OCD and hallucinations can offer some insight into how to treat this condition. For one thing, if intense sensory-related hallucinations were linked to harder-to-control OCD symptoms, then treatments aimed at controlling or redirecting those sensations might be worth considering.
What causes OCD hallucinations?
The cause of OCD hallucinations is often rooted in the severity of a patient’s obsessions. Patients with more vivid imaginations and more severe, harder-to-control obsessions are more likely to experience hallucinations. The cause of OCD and its many symptoms is not fully understood but has its roots in complex brain chemistry and changes in brain structure. Studies have found that OCD patients appear to have differences in the parietal cortex and frontal regions of the brain. Differences in dopamine processing may also explain the basis of OCD symptoms.
How can someone get help for OCD hallucinations and symptoms?
OCD may be a painful and distressing condition, but it is a treatable disorder. Millions of people who are diagnosed with OCD will go on to live a symptom-free life with a range of different treatment options. The most common treatment options for OCD are medications and therapy, specifically cognitive behavioral therapy. Rarely is medicine or therapy alone enough to alleviate OCD symptoms. Using both methods in tandem will give patients the best results. SSRIs can help reduce anxious thoughts and feelings, while therapy helps patients learn healthy coping strategies and habits instead of creating disruptive compulsions to deal with their emotions.
But therapy and medication are not foolproof ways to treat OCD. Some depression and anxiety medicines don’t work for everyone. For severe cases of OCD where medication has not helped, deep brain stimulation techniques are worth a try. The least invasive of these treatment options is transcranial magnetic stimulation. No IVs, anesthesia, or time off work is required to undergo TMS treatment sessions for OCD.
Are you or a loved one dealing with painful and distressing OCD symptoms? If medication and therapy haven’t worked for you, you might be a candidate for TMS treatment. Contact Pulse TMS today to learn more. Representatives are standing by to answer your questions.