Role of stressful and traumatic life events in obsessive-compulsive disorder

Leonardo F Fontenelle, Luca Cocchi, Ben J Harrison, Euripedes Constantino Miguel, Albina Rodrigues Torres

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

16 Citations (Scopus)


Whilst genetic factors are thought to contribute to the development of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the role of environmental factors in OCD is only beginning to be understood. In this article, we review the influence of stress-related factors in OCD. Overall, studies indicate that: patients with OCD frequently report stressful and traumatic life events before illness onset, although these rates do not seem to be significantly different from those described in other disorders; the association between OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might result from symptom overlap, although cases of patients developing OCD after PTSD and showing obsessive-compulsive symptoms that were unrelated to trauma have been described fairly consistently; it is unclear whether patients with OCD and a history of stress-related factors (including stressful life events, traumatic life events or comorbid PTSD) may respond better or worse to the available treatments; and comorbid PTSD may modify the clinical expression of OCD-although controlled studies comparing pre-versus post-traumatic OCD patients are still unavailable. In conclusion, there is a growing evidence to suggest a role for stress-related factors in OCD. Although the available literature does not confirm the existence of a post-traumatic subtype of OCD, it does call for further systematic research into this topic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-69
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011
Externally publishedYes

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