OCD and PTSD – and the relationship between the two

OCD and PTSD – and the relationship between the two

Studies have shown that it’s really common for patients to suffer from both Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) simultaneously. It’s thought that in some circumstances, obsessive behaviors such as repetitive washing or checking may be a way of coping with post-traumatic stress – infact studies have shown that the severity of a person’s OCD symptoms is connected to the number of traumatic events they have experienced in their lifetime.

It’s estimated that between 4% and 22% of people with PTSD also have a diagnosis of OCD. This frequency of the combination of conditions has even led to the term “post traumatic obsessive compulsive disorder” being used – but treatment for the OCD is likely to hinge on targeting the coexisting PTSD.

It’s not yet clear how these conditions are linked, but a it’s thought that a significant number of OCD sufferers have experienced some kind of trauma in their past – and some PTSD symptoms such as hypervigilance can manifest themselves very similarly to OCD symptoms.

Hypervigilance with PTSD can lead to behaviors that defy logic as the individual constantly performs repetitive actions (checking doors are locked, looking for danger, etc) in an attempt to lessen their fears, and these actions may reach the level where a doctor would diagnose the person with OCD.

It’s quite understandable that a person who has been through a fire may become obsessed with the thought of leaving the oven on and causing another fire, or someone who’s house has been burgled may repeatedly check that the doors and windows are locked – but it’s important to know when symptoms become more than that – and when it could be PTSD or OCD.

The symptoms of both PTSD and OCD are remarkably similar, with OCD symptoms said to be (amongst others): ‘recurring and persistent thoughts, impulses, and/or images that are viewed as intrusive and inappropriate. The experience of these thoughts, impulses, and/or images also cause considerable distress and anxiety’; ‘repetitive behaviors (for example, excessive hand washing, checking, hoarding, or constantly trying to put things around you in order) or mental rituals (for example, frequently praying, counting in your head, or repeating phrases constantly in your mind) that someone feels like they have to do in response to the experience of obsessive thoughts’; and ‘focus on trying to reduce or eliminate anxiety or prevent the likelihood of some kind of dreaded event or situation’  – this all sounds familiar right?!


So why are PTSD and OCD connected?

It’s understandable that for people who have experienced a traumatic event, they may constantly feel anxious and have concerns about their safety – the compulsive behaviors may make a person feel more in control, safe, and reduce anxiety in the short-term.

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.


Getting Help for Your PTSD and OCD

It’s clear that there is a relationship between PTSD and OCD, ‘but sometimes the obsessive-compulsive behaviors sneak up on you and so it’s not so obvious. Have you noticed, since your trauma, that you have new, idiosyncratic behaviors, even ones that don’t make sense? Do you clean (yourself or your home) obsessively? Does everything suddenly have to be perfect?’

If you have PTSD and OCD, it is very important to seek out treatment. There are a number of effective treatments available for both PTSD and OCD.

You can learn more about the treatment of OCD from OCD-UK, the leading national charity, independently working with and for almost one million children and adults whose lives are affected by Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).


SOURCES: About Health, The relationship between obsessive– compulsive and posttraumatic stress symptoms in clinical and non-clinical samples J.D. Huppert et al. / Anxiety Disorders 19 (2005) 127–136, Healthy Place, Scientific American, Wise Geek, OCD-UK,

IMAGE: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Benjamin Watson

Guest Blog Alex

Guest Blog: Alex – The power of love and support Over ten years after starting to experiencing night terrors, panic attacks, anxiety, and withdrawal, Alex was diagnosed with PTSD in June 2023. Unaware at the outset that these struggles were

Read More »

Coping with current affairs and news

Navigating Triggers: Coping with Current Affairs and News with PTSD & C-PTSD In today’s world, it can feel like we’re constantly bombarded with graphic information, explicit imagery and upsetting stories, especially through the news and social media. The World Health

Read More »

PTSD UK Founder MBE

PTSD UK Founder Awarded MBE in New Year’s Honours List PTSD UK is delighted to announce that Jacqui Suttie, our Founder and CEO, has been awarded the prestigious Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) award in the

Read More »

Eating Disorder Support

Understanding and Supporting Loved Ones with Eating Disorders During the Festive Season It’s estimated that at least 52% of people with an eating disorder diagnosis have a history of trauma and supporting someone who is struggling with food is not

Read More »

Research in brain responses

Breakthrough Study Reveals Distinct Brain Responses to Traumatic Memories in PTSD In a groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Yale University, new insights into the nature of traumatic memories associated with

Read More »

Fireworks coalition 2023

Charity coalition calls for action on fireworks PTSD UK is honoured to be a member of the ‘Fireworks Working Group,’ a collaborative effort of prominent UK charities advocating for a thorough examination of current fireworks legislation. Ahead of New Year’s

Read More »

Are you looking to fundraise for PTSD UK?

THANK YOU!!  We are a small charity so our main goals at the moment are to increase awareness that we exist (so people can get the support and information they need) and to maximise fundraising to allow us to achieve our mission of supporting everyone in the UK affected by PTSD, no matter the trauma that caused it.