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by Eda Gorbis, PhD

What is OCD? OCD is composed of two components: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images. The thoughts, impulses, or images are not excessive worries about real-life problems. Individuals attempt to ignore, suppress, or neutralize such thoughts, impulses, or images. Typically, individuals recognize the thoughts, impulses, or images that are merely products of his/her own mind. For example, an individual might have a fear of being contaminated, losing control, or might focus on an idea excessively. 

Compulsions are known as repetitive behaviors such as hand washing, ordering, checking, etc. It also consists of mental acts like praying, counting, or repeating words silently. The person feels driven to perform repetitive behaviors or mental acts in response to an obsession according to rigid rules. The behaviors or mental acts are clearly excessive or unreasonable and are aimed at preventing or reducing distress. For someone experiencing OCD, compulsions help to reduce anxiety or prevent a dreadful situation. 

The Connection between OCD and Hormonal Imbalance

Studies have shown that people with OCD are likely to have abnormal hormone levels and that hormones may play a role in triggering or worsening OCD. OCD symptoms in women tend to worsen during premenstrual periods, pregnancy and postpartum. Premenstrual periods are when estrogen levels are highest. In postpartum, which affects 15% of women in the United States annually, OCD may occur immediately or within 4 to 6 weeks after giving birth. Symptoms involve disturbing thoughts and excessive behavior regarding the baby’s well-being beyond normal anxiety reactions to a newborn. Postpartum obsessions might include fear of contaminating the baby, obsessive fear for the baby’s safety, recurrent thoughts of bad mothering, or intrusive thoughts of harming the baby. Postpartum compulsions might include repeatedly washing the baby or avoiding or neglecting the baby. 

Treatments 

It is important to diagnose OCD postpartum early because it might prevent from being detached from the baby, nursing, touching the baby, and reduce depression. One way is to educate women on ways to help reduce anxiety and depression such as the benefits of exercise, a healthy balanced diet, socializing, and breastfeeding. A woman simply go for a 30 minute which might benefit in easing depression or anxiety symptoms. A healthy diet provides the nutrients that the body needs and helps the mother feel better overall. Socializing is great for shifting mood and also reduces depressive symptoms. Making the time to breastfeed creates a special bonding time with the baby. If this is something a mother enjoys, it would be continued. 

Although hormonal imbalance is crucial, there are treatments that might help with hormone levels and OCD symptoms. Women who have elevated levels of estrogen, may consider progesterone therapy to balance high estrogen levels. Growth hormone and pregnenolone (a steroid hormone involved in the sex hormones) may also play a role. Essentially, hormone levels should be measured, and imbalances should be corrected with hormone replacement therapy using bio-identical formulations that duplicate the body’s natural hormones. Women should contact an endocrinologist, who specializes in providing the correct treatment for hormonal imbalances. 


About the Author

Dr. Eda Gorbis, PhD, LMFT is the Founder and Executive Director of the Westwood Institute for Anxiety Disorders in Los Angeles, California and a Clinical Assistant Professor (V) at the USC Keck School of Medicine. The Westwood Institute is often called an intensive center of 'last resort' for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), and other anxiety disorders. By integrating treatment methods with a multidisciplinary team of experts, Dr. Gorbis has brought hundreds of people with prior treatment failures to normal functioning. Her expertise was prominently featured on programs, such as "20/20," "60 Minutes," and "MTV's True Life.”  She has given over 170 conference presentations on topics related to her intensive treatment of OCD, BDD, and anxiety disorders around the world.

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