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Intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts

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Intrusive thoughts are unwelcome involuntary thoughts, images, or unpleasant ideas that may become obsessions
Fixation
Fixation may refer to the following:In science:*Fixation , the state in which an individual becomes obsessed with an attachment to another human, an animal, or an inanimate object...

, are upsetting or distressing, and can be difficult to manage or eliminate. Most people experience these thoughts. When they are associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Obsessive–compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions...

 (OCD), depression
Clinical depression
Major depressive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities...

, and sometimes attention-deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), they may become paralyzing, anxiety
Anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

-provoking, or persistent. Intrusive thoughts may also be associated with episodic memory
Episodic memory
Episodic memory is the memory of autobiographical events that can be explicitly stated. Semantic and episodic memory together make up the category of declarative memory, which is one of the two major divisions in memory...

, unwanted worries or memories from OCD, posttraumatic stress disorder, other anxiety disorder
Anxiety disorder
Anxiety disorder is a blanket term covering several different forms of abnormal and pathological fear and anxiety. Conditions now considered anxiety disorders only came under the aegis of psychiatry at the end of the 19th century. Gelder, Mayou & Geddes explains that anxiety disorders are...

s, eating disorder
Eating disorder
Eating disorders refer to a group of conditions defined by abnormal eating habits that may involve either insufficient or excessive food intake to the detriment of an individual's physical and mental health. Bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common specific...

s, or psychosis
Psychosis
Psychosis means abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality"...

. According to Lee Baer (a specialist at the OCD clinic of Massachusetts General Hospital
Massachusetts General Hospital
Massachusetts General Hospital is a teaching hospital and biomedical research facility in the West End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts...

), intrusive thoughts, urges, and images are of inappropriate things at inappropriate times, usually falling into three categories: "inappropriate aggressive
Aggression
In psychology, as well as other social and behavioral sciences, aggression refers to behavior between members of the same species that is intended to cause humiliation, pain, or harm. Ferguson and Beaver defined aggressive behavior as "Behavior which is intended to increase the social dominance of...

 thoughts, inappropriate sexual
Human sexuality
Human sexuality is the awareness of gender differences, and the capacity to have erotic experiences and responses. Human sexuality can also be described as the way someone is sexually attracted to another person whether it is to opposite sexes , to the same sex , to either sexes , or not being...

 thoughts, or blasphemous
Blasphemy
Blasphemy is irreverence towards religious or holy persons or things. Some countries have laws to punish blasphemy, while others have laws to give recourse to those who are offended by blasphemy...

 religious thoughts".

Description


Many people experience the type of bad or unwanted thoughts that people with more troubling intrusive thoughts have, but most people are able to dismiss these thoughts. For most people, intrusive thoughts are a "fleeting annoyance." London psychologist Stanley Rachman presented a questionnaire to healthy college students and found that virtually all said they had these thoughts from time to time, including thoughts of sexual violence, sexual punishment, "unnatural" sex acts, painful sexual practices, blasphemous or obscene images, thoughts of harming elderly people or someone close to them, violence against animals or towards children, and impulsive or abusive outbursts or utterances. Such bad thoughts are universal among humans, and have "almost certainly always been a part of the human condition".

When intrusive thoughts occur with obsessive-compulsive disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder
Obsessive–compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that produce uneasiness, apprehension, fear, or worry, by repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing the associated anxiety, or by a combination of such obsessions and compulsions...

 (OCD), patients are less able to ignore the unpleasant thoughts and may pay undue attention to them, causing the thoughts to become more frequent and distressing. The thoughts may become obsessions which are paralyzing, severe, and constantly present, and can range from thoughts of violence or sex to religious blasphemy. Distinguishing them from normal intrusive thoughts experienced by many people, the intrusive thoughts associated with OCD may be anxiety provoking, irrepressible, and persistent.

How people react to intrusive thoughts may determine whether these thoughts will become severe, turn into obsessions, or require treatment. Intrusive thoughts can occur with or without compulsions. Carrying out the compulsion reduces the anxiety, but makes the urge to perform the compulsion stronger each time it recurs, reinforcing the intrusive thoughts. According to Baer, suppressing the thoughts only makes them stronger, and recognizing that bad thoughts do not signify that one is truly evil is one of the steps to overcoming them. There is evidence of the benefit of acceptance as an alternative to suppression of intrusive thoughts. A study showed that those instructed to suppress intrusive thoughts experienced more distress after suppression, while patients instructed to accept the bad thoughts experienced decreased discomfort. These results may be related to underlying cognitive processes
Cognition
In science, cognition refers to mental processes. These processes include attention, remembering, producing and understanding language, solving problems, and making decisions. Cognition is studied in various disciplines such as psychology, philosophy, linguistics, and computer science...

 involved in OCD. But, accepting the thoughts can be more difficult for persons with OCD. In the 19th century, OCD was known as "the doubting sickness"; the "pathological doubt" that accompanies OCD can make it harder for a person with OCD to distinguish "normal" intrusive thoughts as experienced by most people, causing them to "suffer in silence, feeling too embarrassed or worried that they will be thought crazy".

The possibility that most patients suffering from intrusive thoughts will ever act on those thoughts is low. Patients who are experiencing intense guilt
Guilt
Guilt is the state of being responsible for the commission of an offense. It is also a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person realizes or believes—accurately or not—that he or she has violated a moral standard, and bears significant responsibility for that...

, anxiety
Anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

, shame
Shame
Shame is, variously, an affect, emotion, cognition, state, or condition. The roots of the word shame are thought to derive from an older word meaning to cover; as such, covering oneself, literally or figuratively, is a natural expression of shame....

, and upset over these thoughts are different from those who actually act on them. The history of violent crime is dominated by those who feel no guilt or remorse
Remorse
Remorse is an emotional expression of personal regret felt by a person after he or she has committed an act which they deem to be shameful, hurtful, or violent. Remorse is closely allied to guilt and self-directed resentment...

; the very fact that someone is tormented by intrusive thoughts and has never acted on them before is an excellent predictor that they will not act upon the thoughts. Patients who are not troubled or shamed by their thoughts, do not find them distasteful, or who have actually taken action, might need to have more serious conditions such as psychosis
Psychosis
Psychosis means abnormal condition of the mind, and is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality"...

 or potentially criminal behaviors ruled out. According to Baer, a patient should be concerned that intrusive thoughts are dangerous if the person does not feel upset by the thoughts, or rather finds them pleasurable; has ever acted on violent or sexual thoughts or urges; hears voices or sees things that others do not see; or feels uncontrollable irresistible anger.

Inappropriate aggressive thoughts


Intrusive thoughts may involve violent obsessions about hurting others or themselves. They can include such thoughts as harming an innocent child, jumping from a bridge, mountain or the top of a tall building, urges to jump in front of a train or automobile, and urges to push another in front of a train or automobile. Rachman's survey of healthy college students found that virtually all of them had intrusive thoughts from time to time, including:
  • Causing harm to elderly people
  • Imagining or wishing harm upon someone close to oneself
  • Impulses to violently attack, hit, harm or kill a person, small child, or animal
  • Impulses to shout at or abuse someone, or attack and violently punish someone, or say something rude, inappropriate, nasty or violent to someone.

These thoughts are part of being human, and need not ruin the quality of life. Treatment is available when the thoughts are associated with OCD and become persistent, severe, or distressing.

Inappropriate sexual thoughts


Sexual obsessions involve intrusive thoughts or images of "kissing, touching, fondling, oral sex
Oral sex
Oral sex is sexual activity involving the stimulation of the genitalia of a sex partner by the use of the mouth, tongue, teeth or throat. Cunnilingus refers to oral sex performed on females while fellatio refer to oral sex performed on males. Anilingus refers to oral stimulation of a person's anus...

, anal sex
Anal sex
Anal sex is the sex act in which the penis is inserted into the anus of a sexual partner. The term can also include other sexual acts involving the anus, including pegging, anilingus , fingering, and object insertion.Common misconception describes anal sex as practiced almost exclusively by gay men...

, intercourse
Sexual intercourse
Sexual intercourse, also known as copulation or coitus, commonly refers to the act in which a male's penis enters a female's vagina for the purposes of sexual pleasure or reproduction. The entities may be of opposite sexes, or they may be hermaphroditic, as is the case with snails...

, and rape
Rape
Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse, which is initiated by one or more persons against another person without that person's consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority or with a person who is incapable of valid consent. The...

" with "strangers, acquaintances, parents, children, family members, friends, coworkers, animals and religious figures", involving "heterosexual
Heterosexuality
Heterosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the opposite sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, heterosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, physical or romantic attractions to persons of the opposite sex";...

 or homosexual
Homosexuality
Homosexuality is romantic or sexual attraction or behavior between members of the same sex or gender. As a sexual orientation, homosexuality refers to "an enduring pattern of or disposition to experience sexual, affectional, or romantic attractions" primarily or exclusively to people of the same...

 content" with persons of any age.

Like other unwanted intrusive thoughts or images, everyone has some inappropriate sexual thoughts at times, but people with OCD may attach significance to the unwanted sexual thoughts, generating anxiety and distress. The doubt that accompanies OCD leads to uncertainty regarding whether one might act on the intrusive thoughts, resulting in self-criticism or loathing.

One of the more common sexual intrusive thoughts occurs when an obsessive person doubts his or her sexual identity. As in the case of most sexual obsessions, sufferers may feel shame and live in isolation, finding it hard to discuss their fears, doubts, and concerns about their sexual identity.

A person experiencing sexual intrusive thoughts may feel shame, "embarrassment, guilt, distress, torment, fear that you may act on the thought or perceived impulse, and doubt about whether you have already acted in such a way." Depression may be a result of the self-loathing that can occur, depending on how much the OCD interferes with daily functioning or causes distress. Their concern over these thoughts may cause them to scrutinize their bodies to determine if the thoughts result in feelings of arousal. But, focusing attention of any part of the body can result in feelings in that part of the body, hence doing so may decrease confidence and increase fear about acting on the urges. Part of treatment of sexual intrusive thoughts involves therapy to help sufferers accept intrusive thoughts and stop trying to reassure themselves by checking their bodies.

Blasphemous religious thoughts


Blasphemous
Blasphemy
Blasphemy is irreverence towards religious or holy persons or things. Some countries have laws to punish blasphemy, while others have laws to give recourse to those who are offended by blasphemy...

 thoughts are a common component of OCD, documented throughout history; notable religious figures such as Martin Luther
Martin Luther
Martin Luther was a German priest, professor of theology and iconic figure of the Protestant Reformation. He strongly disputed the claim that freedom from God's punishment for sin could be purchased with money. He confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517...

 and St. Ignatius
Ignatius of Loyola
Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, hermit, priest since 1537, and theologian, who founded the Society of Jesus and was its first Superior General. Ignatius emerged as a religious leader during the Counter-Reformation...

 were known to be tormented by intrusive, blasphemous or religious thoughts and urges. Martin Luther had urges to curse God and Jesus, and was obsessed with images of "the Devil's behind". St. Ignatius had numerous obsessions, including the fear of stepping on pieces of straw forming a cross, fearing that it showed disrespect to Christ. A study of 50 patients with a primary diagnosis of obsessive-compulsive disorder found that 40% had religious and blasphemous thoughts and doubts—a higher number than the 38% who had the obsessional thoughts related to dirt and contamination more commonly associated with OCD. One study suggests that content of intrusive thoughts may vary depending on culture, and that blasphemous thoughts may be more common in men than in women.

According to Fred Penzel, a New York psychologist, some common religious obsessions and intrusive thoughts are:
  • sexual thoughts about God, saints, and religious figures such as Mary
    Mary (mother of Jesus)
    Mary , commonly referred to as "Saint Mary", "Mother Mary", the "Virgin Mary", the "Blessed Virgin Mary", or "Mary, Mother of God", was a Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee...

  • bad thoughts or images during prayer or meditation
  • thoughts of being possessed
    Demonic possession
    Demonic possession is held by many belief systems to be the control of an individual by a malevolent supernatural being. Descriptions of demonic possessions often include erased memories or personalities, convulsions, “fits” and fainting as if one were dying...

  • fears of sinning or breaking a religious law or performing a ritual incorrectly
  • fears of omitting prayers or reciting them incorrectly
  • repetitive and intrusive blasphemous thoughts
  • urges or impulses to say blasphemous words or commit blasphemous acts during religious services.


Suffering can be greater and treatment complicated when intrusive thoughts involve religious implications; patients may believe the thoughts are inspired by Satan, and may fear punishment from God or have magnified shame because they perceive themselves as sinful. Symptoms can be more distressful for sufferers with strong religious convictions or beliefs.

Baer believes that blasphemous thoughts are more common in Catholics
Catholicism
Catholicism is a broad term for the body of the Catholic faith, its theologies and doctrines, its liturgical, ethical, spiritual, and behavioral characteristics, as well as a religious people as a whole....

 and evangelical
Evangelicalism
Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement which began in Great Britain in the 1730s and gained popularity in the United States during the series of Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century.Its key commitments are:...

 Protestants
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

 than in other religions, whereas Jews or Muslim
Muslim
A Muslim, also spelled Moslem, is an adherent of Islam, a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion based on the Quran, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God as revealed to prophet Muhammad. "Muslim" is the Arabic term for "submitter" .Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable...

s tend to have obsessions related more to complying with the laws and rituals of their faith, and performing the rituals perfectly. He hypothesizes that this is because what is considered inappropriate varies among cultures and religions, and intrusive thoughts torment their sufferers with whatever is considered most inappropriate in the surrounding culture.

Associated conditions


Intrusive thoughts are associated with OCD or obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
Obsessive–compulsive personality disorder is a personality disorder characterized by a pervasive pattern of preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control at the expense of flexibility, openness, and efficiency.- Signs and symptoms :The primary symptoms of OCPD...

, but may also occur with other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Posttraumaticstress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,...

, clinical depression
Clinical depression
Major depressive disorder is a mental disorder characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities...

, postpartum depression
Postpartum depression
Postpartum depression , also called postnatal depression, is a form of clinical depression which can affect women, and less frequently men, typically after childbirth. Studies report prevalence rates among women from 5% to 25%, but methodological differences among the studies make the actual...

, and anxiety
Anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

. One of these conditions is almost always present in people whose intrusive thoughts reach a clinical level of severity. A large study published in 2005 found that aggressive, sexual, and religious obsessions were broadly associated with comorbid anxiety disorder
Anxiety disorder
Anxiety disorder is a blanket term covering several different forms of abnormal and pathological fear and anxiety. Conditions now considered anxiety disorders only came under the aegis of psychiatry at the end of the 19th century. Gelder, Mayou & Geddes explains that anxiety disorders are...

s and depression. The intrusive thoughts that occur in a schizophrenic episode
Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder characterized by a disintegration of thought processes and of emotional responsiveness. It most commonly manifests itself as auditory hallucinations, paranoid or bizarre delusions, or disorganized speech and thinking, and it is accompanied by significant social...

 differ from the obsessional thoughts that occur with OCD or depression in that the intrusive thoughts of schizophrenics are false or delusional
Delusion
A delusion is a false belief held with absolute conviction despite superior evidence. Unlike hallucinations, delusions are always pathological...

 beliefs (i.e. held by the schizophrenic individual to be real and not doubted, as is typically the case with intrusive thoughts) .

Post-traumatic stress disorder


The key difference between OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Posttraumaticstress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,...

 (PTSD) is that the intrusive thoughts of PTSD sufferers are of traumatic events that actually happened to them, whereas OCD sufferers have thoughts of imagined catastrophes. PTSD patients with intrusive thoughts have to sort out violent, sexual, or blasphemous thoughts from memories of traumatic experiences. When patients with intrusive thoughts do not respond to treatment, physicians may suspect past physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.

Depression


People who are clinically depressed may experience intrusive thoughts more intensely, and view them as evidence that they are worthless or sinful people. The suicidal thoughts
Suicidal ideation
Suicidal ideation is a common medical term for thoughts about suicide, which may be as detailed as a formulated plan, without the suicidal act itself. Although most people who undergo suicidal ideation do not commit suicide, some go on to make suicide attempts...

 that are common in depression must be distinguished from intrusive thoughts, because suicidal thoughts—unlike harmless sexual, aggressive, or religious thoughts—can be dangerous.

Postpartum depression


Unwanted thoughts by mothers about harming their newborn infants are common in postpartum depression
Postpartum depression
Postpartum depression , also called postnatal depression, is a form of clinical depression which can affect women, and less frequently men, typically after childbirth. Studies report prevalence rates among women from 5% to 25%, but methodological differences among the studies make the actual...

. A 1999 study of 65 women with postpartum major depression by Katherine Wisner et al. found the most frequent aggressive thought for women with postpartum depression was causing harm to their newborn infants. A study of 85 new parents found that 89% experienced intrusive images, for example, of the baby suffocating, having an accident, being harmed, or being kidnapped.

Some women may develop symptoms of OCD during pregnancy or the postpartum period. Postpartum OCD occurs mainly in women who may already have OCD, perhaps in a mild or undiagnosed form. Postpartum depression and OCD may be comorbid (often occurring together). And though physicians may focus more on the depressive symptoms, one study found that obsessive thoughts did accompany postpartum depression in 57% of new mothers.

Wisner found common obsessions about harming babies in mothers experiencing postpartum depression include images of the baby lying dead in a casket or being eaten by sharks; stabbing the baby; throwing the baby down the stairs; or drowning or burning the baby (as by submerging it in the bathtub in the former case or throwing it in the fire or putting it in the microwave in the latter). Baer estimates that up to 200,000 new mothers with postpartum depression each year may develop these obsessional thoughts about their babies; and because they may be reluctant to share these thoughts with a physician or family member, or suffer in silence and fear they are "crazy", their depression can worsen.

Intrusive fears of harming immediate children can last longer than the postpartum period. A study of 100 clinically depressed women found that 41% had obsessive fears that they might harm their child, and some were afraid to care for their children. Among non-depressed mothers, the study found 7% had thoughts of harming their child—a rate that yields an additional 280,000 non-depressed mothers in the United States with intrusive thoughts about harming their children.

Frequency


According to Baer, most people who suffer bad or unacceptable thoughts have not identified themselves as having OCD, because they may not have what they believe to be classic symptoms of OCD, such as handwashing. Yet, he says, epidemiological
Epidemiology
Epidemiology is the study of health-event, health-characteristic, or health-determinant patterns in a population. It is the cornerstone method of public health research, and helps inform policy decisions and evidence-based medicine by identifying risk factors for disease and targets for preventive...

 studies suggest that intrusive thoughts are the most common kind of OCD worldwide; if people in the United States with intrusive thoughts gathered together, they would form the fourth-largest city in the US, following New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

 and Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

. A 2007 study found that 78% of a clinical sample of OCD patients had intrusive images.

The prevalence of OCD in every culture studied is at least 2% of the population, and the majority of those have obsessions, or bad thoughts, only; this results in a conservative estimate of more than 2 million sufferers in the United States alone (as of 2000). One author estimates that one in 50 adults has OCD and about 10–20% of these have sexual obsessions. A recent study found that 25% of 293 patients with a primary diagnosis of OCD had a history of sexual obsessions.

Treatment


Treatment for intrusive thoughts is similar to treatment for OCD. Exposure and response prevention therapy
Exposure therapy
Exposure therapy is a technique in behavior therapy intended to treat anxiety disorders and involves the exposure to the feared object or context without any danger in order to overcome their anxiety. Procedurally it is similar to the fear extinction paradigm in rodent work...

—also referred to as habituation or desensitization
Systematic desensitization
Systematic desensitization is a type of behavioral therapy used in the field of psychology to help effectively overcome phobias and other anxiety disorders. More specifically, it is a type of Pavlovian therapy / classical conditioning therapy developed by a South African psychiatrist, Joseph Wolpe...

—is useful in treating intrusive thoughts. Mild cases can also be treated with cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps patients identify and manage the unwanted thoughts.

Exposure therapy


Exposure therapy is the treatment of choice for intrusive thoughts. According to Deborah Osgood-Hynes, Psy.D. Director of Psychological Services and Training at the MGH/McLean OCD Institute, "In order to reduce a fear, you have to face a fear. This is true of all types of anxiety and fear reactions, not just OCD."

Because it is uncomfortable to experience bad thoughts and urges, shame, doubt or fear, the initial reaction is usually to do something to make the feelings diminish. By engaging in a ritual or compulsion to diminish the anxiety or bad feeling, the action is strengthened via a process called negative reinforcement—the mind learns that the way to avoid the bad feeling is by engaging in a ritual or compulsions. When OCD becomes severe, this leads to more interference in life and continues the frequency and severity of the thoughts the person sought to avoid.

Exposure therapy (or exposure and response prevention) is the practice of staying in an anxiety-provoking or feared situation until the distress or anxiety diminishes. The goal is to reduce the fear reaction, learning to not react to the bad thoughts. This is the most effective way to reduce the frequency and severity of the intrusive thoughts. The goal is to be able to "expose yourself to the thing that most triggers your fear or discomfort for one to two hours at a time, without leaving the situation, or doing anything else to distract or comfort you." Exposure therapy will not completely eliminate intrusive thoughts—everyone has bad thoughts—but most patients find that it can decrease their thoughts sufficiently that intrusive thoughts no longer interfere with their lives.

Cognitive behavioral therapy


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a newer therapy than exposure therapy, available for those unable or unwilling to undergo exposure therapy. Cognitive therapy has been shown to be useful in reducing intrusive thoughts, but developing a conceptualization of the obsessions and compulsions with the patient is important.

Pharmaceutical


Antidepressant
Antidepressant
An antidepressant is a psychiatric medication used to alleviate mood disorders, such as major depression and dysthymia and anxiety disorders such as social anxiety disorder. According to Gelder, Mayou &*Geddes people with a depressive illness will experience a therapeutic effect to their mood;...

s or antipsychotic
Antipsychotic
An antipsychotic is a tranquilizing psychiatric medication primarily used to manage psychosis , particularly in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A first generation of antipsychotics, known as typical antipsychotics, was discovered in the 1950s...

 medications may be used for more severe cases, if intrusive thoughts do not respond to cognitive behavioral or exposure therapy alone. Whether the cause of intrusive thoughts is OCD, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder, the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor
Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors or serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitor are a class of compounds typically used as antidepressants in the treatment of depression, anxiety disorders, and some personality disorders. The efficacy of SSRIs is disputed...

 (SSRI) drugs (a class of antidepressants) are the most commonly prescribed. Intrusive thoughts may occur in persons with Tourette syndrome
Tourette syndrome
Tourette syndrome is an inherited neuropsychiatric disorder with onset in childhood, characterized by multiple physical tics and at least one vocal tic; these tics characteristically wax and wane...

 (TS) who also have OCD; the obsessions in TS-related OCD are thought to respond to SSRI drugs as well.

Antidepressants which have been shown to be effective in treating OCD include fluvoxamine
Fluvoxamine
Fluvoxamine is an antidepressant which functions as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor . Fluvoxamine was first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1993 for the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder . Fluvoxamine CR is approved to treat social anxiety disorder...

 (trade name Luvox), fluoxetine
Fluoxetine
Fluoxetine is an antidepressant of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor class. It is manufactured and marketed by Eli Lilly and Company...

 (Prozac), sertraline
Sertraline
Sertraline hydrochloride is an antidepressant of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor class. It was introduced to the market by Pfizer in 1991. Sertraline is primarily used to treat major depression in adult outpatients as well as obsessive–compulsive, panic, and social anxiety disorders in...

 (Zoloft), paroxetine
Paroxetine
Paroxetine is an SSRI antidepressant. Marketing of the drug began in 1992 by the pharmaceutical company SmithKline Beecham, now GlaxoSmithKline...

 (Paxil), citalopram
Citalopram
Citalopram brand names: Celexa, Cipramil) is an antidepressant drug of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor class. It has U.S...

 (Celexa), and clomipramine
Clomipramine
Clomipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant . It was developed in the 1960s by the Swiss drug manufacturer Geigy and has been in clinical use worldwide ever since.- Indications :...

 (Anafranil). Although SSRIs are known to be effective for OCD in general, there have been fewer studies on their effectiveness for intrusive thoughts. A retrospective chart review of patients with sexual symptoms treated with SSRIs showed the greatest improvement was in those with intrusive sexual obsessions typical of OCD. A study of ten patients with religious or blasphemous obsessions found that most patients responded to treatment with fluoxetine or clomipramine. Women with postpartum depression often have anxiety as well, and may need lower starting doses of SSRIs; they may not respond fully to the medication, and may benefit from adding cognitive behavioral or response prevention therapy.

Patients with intense intrusive thoughts that do not respond to SSRIs or other antidepressants may be prescribed typical and atypical
Atypical antipsychotic
The atypical antipsychotics are a group of antipsychotic tranquilizing drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions. Some atypical antipsychotics are FDA approved for use in the treatment of schizophrenia...

 neuroleptics
Antipsychotic
An antipsychotic is a tranquilizing psychiatric medication primarily used to manage psychosis , particularly in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A first generation of antipsychotics, known as typical antipsychotics, was discovered in the 1950s...

 including risperidone
Risperidone
Risperidone is a second generation or atypical antipsychotic, sold under the trade name . It is used to treat schizophrenia , schizoaffective disorder, the mixed and manic states associated with bipolar disorder, and irritability in people with autism...

 (trade name Risperdal), ziprasidone
Ziprasidone
Ziprasidone was the fifth atypical antipsychotic to gain FDA approval . In the United States, Ziprasidone is Food and Drug Administration approved for the treatment of schizophrenia, and the intramuscular injection form of ziprasidone is approved for acute agitation in schizophrenic patients...

 (Geodon), haloperidol
Haloperidol
Haloperidol is a typical antipsychotic. It is in the butyrophenone class of antipsychotic medications and has pharmacological effects similar to the phenothiazines....

 (Haldol), and pimozide
Pimozide
Pimozide is an antipsychotic drug of the diphenylbutylpiperidine class. It was discovered at Janssen Pharmaceutica in 1963. It has a high potency compared to chlorpromazine . On a weight basis it is even more potent than haloperidol. It also has special neurologic indications for Tourette syndrome...

 (Orap).

Studies suggest that therapeutic doses of inositol
Inositol
Inositol or cyclohexane-1,2,3,4,5,6-hexol is a chemical compound with formula 6126 or 6, a sixfold alcohol of cyclohexane. It exists in nine possible stereoisomers, of which the most prominent form, widely occurring in nature, is cis-1,2,3,5-trans-4,6-cyclohexanehexol, or myo-inositol...

may be useful in the treatment of obsessive thoughts.

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