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What Is the Connection between PTSD and OCD?

By Jacob Queen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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It is very common for patients to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) simultaneously. Occurrence of the two diseases in tandem is so common that some experts have coined the term "post traumatic obsessive compulsive disorder" to describe the combination. A significant number of OCD sufferers have experienced some kind of trauma in their past, and some experts think that the occurrence of trauma could potentially precipitate both disorders for certain individuals.

PTSD is a disorder caused by some kind of horrific and traumatic experience in someone’s past, often either related to violence or some kind of close brush with death where the individual was forced to experience intense fear. Sufferers have problems with reoccurring unpleasant mental imagery, nervousness, and sometimes, emotional numbness. OCD is a disorder related to repetitive behaviors, such as checking things constantly or constant cleaning, and many of the behaviors are directly motivated by anxiety. Additionally, OCD sufferers also often have problems with uncomfortable or unpleasant thoughts and images. PTSD and OCD both fall under the same official umbrella in terms of classification because of their direct relation to anxiety.

Research has shown that many people who suffer from OCD have also been through some kind of terrifying or traumatic experience at some point in their lives, including many who aren’t actually diagnosed as sufferers of both PTSD and OCD. In fact, many experts think that a certain number of OCD cases are actually caused by a reaction to trauma. A truly harrowing experience has the potential to make somebody start to worry about certain details and may cause some to develop anxiety-related obsessions. For example, someone who has been through a household fire might become constantly obsessed with the possibility of leaving the stove on and causing another fire, while someone who’s been through a home invasion might worry that his door isn’t locked at night. Sometimes these obsessions can lead to behaviors that defy logic as the individual constantly performs repetitive actions in an attempt to lessen his fears, and these actions may reach the level where a doctor would diagnose the person with OCD.

Any trauma that would be severe enough to potentially cause the symptoms of OCD might also have a chance to cause PTSD in the same individual, and this may be the reason that PTSD and OCD are so commonly found together. There are also some experts who wonder whether some sort of temperamental tendency makes certain people react more intensely to traumatic experiences, potentially leaving them especially vulnerable to both PTSD and OCD. Most studies of the connection between PTSD and OCD have looked at the past histories of OCD patients for traumatic experiences, but some experts think it is also worthwhile to look more carefully for PTSD sufferers who may have already had a diagnosis of OCD before going through their trauma.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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