An investigation of traumatic life events and obsessive-compulsive disorder

Behav Res Ther. 2007 Jul;45(7):1683-91. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2006.08.018. Epub 2006 Oct 25.


Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), like most other psychiatric disorders, is suspected of being influenced by an interaction between life events and genes, both with regard to onset and course of illness. To date, no specific genes have been identified as playing a frequent role, and only a relatively few empirical studies have assessed the association between stressful life events (SLEs) and OCD. The present study builds on past research by examining the potential contributions from traumatic life events (TLEs) on the severity and symptom features in 265 individuals with Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SCID)-diagnosed OCD. Of these participants 54% endorsed having experienced at least one TLE in their life time. The presence of one or more TLEs was associated with increased OCD symptom severity. This relationship remained significant despite controlling for key variables including age, OCD age-of-onset, comorbidity, and depressive symptoms. In addition, obsessions/checking and symmetry/ordering were two of four symptom factors that were specifically associated with the occurrence of TLEs. These results are generally supportive of a pathoplastic relationship between TLEs and OCD symptomatology and thus suggest the need for greater systematic consideration of life stresses in research focused on the nature and treatment of OCD.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Age of Onset
  • Compulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Obsessive Behavior / psychology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / complications
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology