Obsessive compulsive disorder linked to increased stroke risk

Adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are more than three times as likely as those without the disorder to have a stroke later in life, according to new research. 

OCD affects around 500,000 Australians, says mental health charity SANE Australia, and is the fourth most common psychiatric disorder after phobias, substance abuse and depression.

According to figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), stroke was recorded as the underlying cause of 8400 deaths in 2018, accounting for 5.3 per cent of all deaths in Australia.

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Previous research has found that OCD often occurs after a stroke or other brain injury, but researchers decided to test whether the reverse was also true, and the findings produced results.

The analysis of Taiwanese health records from 2001-2010 compared the stroke risk between 28,064 adults diagnosed with OCD and 28,064 without the disorder for up to 11 years.

The study found that adults with OCD were more than three times as likely to have a stroke from a blood clot compared to adults who did not have the disorder and that the greatest risk was among adults aged 60 or older.

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OCD was found to be an independent risk factor for stroke even after controlling for other factors known to increase stroke risk, including obesity, heart disease, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.

The study also found that the medications used to treat OCD were not associated with the increased risk of stroke.

Study author Dr Ya-Mei Bai said that because the study was observational it could only show an association between OCD and stroke risk, but could not prove cause and effect.

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“For decades, studies have found a relationship between stroke first and OCD later,” Dr Bai said.

“Our findings remind clinicians to closely monitor blood pressure and lipid profiles, which are known to be related to stroke in patients with OCD.”

She explained that more research was needed to understand how the mental processes connected to OCD could increase the risk of stroke.

What is OCD?
OCD is a common, sometimes debilitating, mental health condition characterised by intrusive, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make a person feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions).

The repetitive behaviours characteristic of OCD, such as hand washing, checking on things or continuously cleaning, can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions. 

People living with OCD are troubled by recurring unwanted thoughts, images, or impulses, as well as obsessions and repetitive rituals.

People with OCD are usually aware that their symptoms are irrational and excessive, but they find the obsessions uncontrollable and the compulsions impossible to resist.

Do you or someone you know suffer from OCD? Do you know someone who has suffered a stroke and then developed OCD? How has it affected their life?

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Written by Ben



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