Nuisance Conditions

There are a few conditions that can result, in one way or another, from your OC behaviors. Luckily, those covered in this section are generally more annoying than physically debilitating — but they're important to know about nonetheless. These include eczema, mitral valve prolapse (MVP), and globus hystericus.

Eczema

If you frequently wash your hands (or, for that matter, your whole body or any part of it), especially in hot water and with lots of drying soap or with alcohol or alcohol-containing wipes, you may be at risk for (or currently have) eczema, a relatively harmless, though potentially annoying, skin condition.

Eczema may be set off by any number of environmental triggers, including dry skin and excess washing and rubbing. There are many different types of eczema. Some cause itching; others, skin discoloration, and so on. Eczema also can migrate from one spot on the body to another, for no real reason. It is considered chronic and may come and go, often for long periods of time.

If it's possible for you to reduce the amount of time you spend washing, that will be a plus. If you find that you can't, you might try switching to a milder soap and using lukewarm water instead of very hot. At the very least, use lots of moisturizer throughout the day and when going to bed. (Gloves or socks can help keep it from rubbing off your hands or feet and making a mess.) It helps to keep lotion by the sink, and to apply it as soon as possible after bathing or washing. Try to pat rather than rub the skin when you dry it.

If you watch TV, keeping your moisturizer by your chair or sofa will allow you to use it easily while your hands are at rest (unless you want to eat popcorn). Your doctor may also give you a topical cream to rub in.

Avoid scratching the skin or wearing abrasive fabrics. Finally, if dry skin is a problem, you may want to consider showering or bathing every other day instead of every day.

Fact

Overuse of antibacterial soaps has been linked to lowered disease resistance. In the great majority of cases, regular old soap should be just fine. Some health advisers even recommend nothing more than water for most situations.

Eczema tends to run in families. Keep in mind that it is not contagious, nor is it dangerous. It can just be mildly (or, in some cases, more than mildly) unpleasant. If your skin becomes infected, however, your doctor may want to give you a topical or oral antibiotic. Severe eczema can sometimes be treated in other ways, such as through phototherapy, or treatment with light.

When going out into the cold, you would also be well advised to protect all exposed skin as much as you can by wearing gloves, a scarf, a hat, and warm, thick socks.

Mitral Valve Prolapse (MVP)

One of the more frightening (though also generally harmless) conditions that sometimes affects people who have OCD is mitral valve prolapse, which can cause heart palpitations, chest pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, or all of these.

Alert

If you do have a heart condition, make sure to let your doctor know that you also have an anxiety disorder. If you're not sure about the relative health of your heart, that's another good reason to make an appointment for a routine doctor visit.

Palpitations are simply heartbeats that you notice. They may or may not be especially strong or fast, but some people find them worrisome. Often, these palpitations are not the result of stressful physical activity, but happen on their own, seemingly “out of nowhere.” Because they closely mimic anxiety or cardiac symptoms, people who have OCD may find them troubling.

Mitral valve prolapse is a slight irregularity of one of the valves in the heart, but again, it is generally not serious, or even harmful.

People who have MVP often have anxiety disorders. MVP seems to cause anxiety in susceptible individuals, most probably because its symptoms are exactly the same as those caused by anxiety: palpitations, shortness of breath and, in some cases, chest pain. Anxiety does not cause MVP.

Essential

You cannot develop or catch mitral valve prolapse. Either you have it or you don't. If you do have it, keep in mind that it is not considered a serious condition (although any health concern should be checked out by your physician).

Although MVP symptoms can be disquieting, they are rarely cause for alarm. If you have never experienced heart palpitations before, ask your doctor about them. If it turns out that what you have is MVP, you may be able to stop the fluttering by pressing hard on the underside of your neck and rubbing, just inside the jaw line. (Take care, however, to massage only one side. Rubbing both at once can result in unconsciousness!) In any case, you can learn cognitive techniques to help yourself at such moments by consciously stopping to re-evaluate your response to any symptom. Reminding yourself that MVP is harmless, as are its associated symptoms, should eventually help you to reduce your worry.

The Society for Mitral Valve Prolapse Syndrome recommends avoiding humidity, saunas, undue stress, lifting heavy weights, and consuming alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. Make sure to get exercise. Start slowly, and work up to thirty minutes a day.

Panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, and depression all have been linked to MVP, as have fatigue and many other conditions.

Globus Hystericus

Sometimes, for no obvious reason, you may feel as if your throat is closing or is suddenly very “tight.” It may feel like the proverbial “lump in the throat.” This could be caused by globus hystericus (also known as globus pharynges or pharyngitis), another harmless, though potentially upsetting, condition that may be related to acid reflux (GERD), which is discussed in the next section. Because globus hystericus sometimes happens when you are at rest and not feeling stressed at all, it may alarm you. But it will usually go away by itself within minutes. There should be no reason for panic if you experience this symptom. (However, if you believe your symptoms are, or may be, caused by an allergic reaction, do seek medical assistance quickly.)

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