Stressful life events and obsessive-compulsive disorder: clinical features and symptom dimensions

Psychiatry Res. 2012 May 30;197(3):259-64. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2011.10.005. Epub 2012 Feb 25.


The potential role of stressful life events (SLEs) in the genesis of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has been suggested by several authors, but whether the number or the severity or the type of SLEs preceding the onset of OCD has a triggering effect is unclear. Further, sociodemographic and clinical features of OCD preceded by SLEs, and the relationship between type of SLEs and type of obsessive-compulsive symptomatology remain mainly unexplored. The aims of this study were to compare the clinical features of OCD with and without SLEs preceding it and to examine the relationship between type of SLEs and OCD symptom dimensions. The number and type of SLEs which occurred before the onset of OCD were determined in 329 patients: the raters had to decide whether an occurrence 12 months before the onset of OCD would fit any of the 61 items on Paykel's list, and each event reported was carefully investigated in order to determine the exact time of occurrence. At least one event preceded the onset of OCD in 200 patients (60.8%), and this was significantly associated with female gender, abrupt onset of the disorder and somatic obsessions. Moreover, LogReg Analysis identified three specific traumatic events ("hospitalization of a family member", "major personal physical illness", "loss of personally valuable object") significantly associated with a symptom dimension (symmetry obsessions, repeating, ordering/arranging, counting, and checking compulsions). Additional evidence regarding the association among SLE-preceded OCD, female gender, somatic obsessions and symmetry/ordering symptoms should be obtained to advance the understanding of OCD.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological / methods
  • Life Change Events*
  • Male
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Time Factors