UBC research offers new hope for people crippled by obsessive, repugnant thoughts

February 12, 2003

Imagine being tortured by repeated thoughts of stabbing your child or having sex with your minister - thoughts that won't go away no matter how hard you try to suppress them.

In the largest study of its kind ever conducted in North America, University of British Columbia researchers will spend four years treating 120 people suffering from this disorder, previously thought to be untreatable.

A subtype of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the illness is called OCD with primary obsessions. Characterized by persistent, unwanted and repugnant thoughts that are not acted upon, the disorder affects men and women equally and can develop in childhood. The cause is unknown but symptoms deteriorate with stress. The most common OCD primary obsessions involve sexual, violent or blasphemous content and may include repugnant thoughts about God, hurting a loved one or inappropriate sexual acts.

Sufferers account for about 20 per cent of all OCD patients. Unlike other forms of OCD, the disorder has no visible symptoms, which makes it extremely difficult to diagnose and virtually untreatable. In addition, the disorder is more resistant to medication than other forms of OCD.

"This is a common disorder that is largely unrecognized because people are ashamed to talk about it," says UBC Psychiatry Prof. Peter McLean, who is leading the study. "People are often misdiagnosed and treated for the depression and stress that often accompany the disorder."

A team of 10 OCD experts at the Anxiety Disorders Unit of UBC Hospital will compare the effectiveness of two different therapies, both of which focus on thoughts and behaviour.

"This and other forms of OCD can be crippling, yet there are no specialized treatment programs in B.C. and many patients are being sent to the U.S. for help," says co-investigator Maureen Whittal. "U.S. hospital stays that may last weeks or months can cost up to $600 US per day - Canadian taxpayers are absorbing the costs."

Approximately 1,600 hospital days are associated with severe OCD cases in B.C.

Those wishing to be involved in the study must live in the Lower Mainland and be 19 years of age or older. The treatment is free and no doctor referral is necessary. Participants will be interviewed by telephone prior to selection for the study. For further information, contact a UBC anxiety specialist at 604-822-7676.

Interviews with sufferers of OCD with primary obsessions can be arranged providing there is guarantee of anonymity. Attached is a backgrounder on OCD.

University of British Columbia

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