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The Relationship Between PTSD and OCD

Sunlight shining through trees with text The Relationship Between PTSD and OC

If you’re living with both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), you’re not alone. Research shows that the likelihood of a person diagnosed with PTSD developing OCD within a year is approximately 30 percent, which is significantly higher than the prevalence rate for the general population. To put that into perspective, only 1 percent of the U.S. population is affected by OCD. That leaves us with the estimation that anywhere from 4 to 22 percent of individuals with PTSD also have a diagnosis of PTSD.

In this brief article, we’ll explore the connection between OCD and PTSD and the treatment options available for trauma-related OCD. If you’re interested in assessing the impact of traumatic events on your life, receiving an accurate diagnosis, and exploring treatment options that take your mind, body, and spirit into account, reach out to Maulik K. Trivedi, M.D., a psychiatrist in Carrollwood

Related: Can I Overcome OCD Without Medication?

Overlapping Symptoms of OCD and PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychiatric disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, like war or sexual assault. With this disorder comes the presence of recurring symptoms, such as intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, negative changes in thoughts, and persistent avoidance of trauma-related cues. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, on the other hand, is an anxiety disorder that occurs when a person gets trapped in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions. This disorder is marked by recurrent, intrusive thoughts or images, and intense urges to perform mental or behavioral rituals. 

The overlap between these two disorders lies in the symptoms of unwanted, intrusive memories or thoughts, repetitive behaviors designed to reduce distress, and avoidance of triggers that may cause these intrusive thoughts or memories to occur. The difference is that while the repetitive behaviors of OCD are performed to prevent an imagined threat from occurring, the repetitive behaviors of PTSD are done to avoid reexperiencing traumatic memories.

Related: How to Break the Cycle of Depression and Anxiety

OCD and Trauma

When a patient develops OCD after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, he or she can be considered to be suffering from trauma-related OCD. In OCD patients with a diagnosis of PTSD, over 10 percent were diagnosed with OCD either at the same time or following their diagnosis of PTSD. This is important because individuals with OCD that develops after trauma show a different pattern of symptoms than patients with non-trauma related OCD. In particular, people with trauma-related OCD experience much more severe symptoms, including suicidal thoughts, hoarding, anxiety, depression, self-mutilation, agoraphobia, and compulsive spending. Patients who develop OCD after PTSD are also generally older at the onset of this disorder.

Treatment for Trauma-Related OCD

Currently, there are no standard guidelines for treating comorbid PTSD and OCD; however, the two primary forms of OCD and trauma-related treatments that have been tested and deemed effective are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. In CBT, patients learn to identify negative thoughts and feelings and how to replace those thoughts with positive patterns of thoughts or feelings. In EMDR, the patient is able to forge new associations with their traumatic memory and allow the brain to resume its natural healing process. If you believe you could benefit from either one of these modalities for OCD treatment in Carrollwood, get in contact with a psychiatrist like Maulik K. Trivedi, M.D., to schedule an appointment.

Schedule a consultation with a psychiatrist in Carrollwood today!


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