Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and bipolar disorder can both impact the way a person thinks.

Bipolar disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are mental health conditions that share some common aspects.

People living with OCD experience obsessive, distressing thoughts and feel compelled to take particular actions to soothe their anxiety. These compulsions can provide temporary relief.

People with bipolar disorder experience extreme shifts in mood and energy levels. Some people find that their “highs and lows” last for only a few hours. Others may experience mania and depression for weeks or months at a time.

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. OCD is not. Still, there appears to be a link between the two.

According to 2015 research, many studies show that OCD symptoms are more common in people with bipolar disorder than in the general population.

Research suggests there’s a link between these two conditions.

A 1995 landmark study found that OCD was more likely to occur with bipolar disorder than other mental health conditions, like depression.

If a person lives with one mental health condition, it may increase their chances of developing another. But there’s a particularly strong link between OCD and bipolar disorder.

Some researchers have even asked whether OCD is a subtype of bipolar disorder instead of an independent disorder.

Several symptoms can occur in both OCD and bipolar disorder, including:

  • changes in energy levels
  • changes in sleep patterns
  • abrupt or dramatic shifts in mood
  • intrusive or uncontrollable thoughts
  • repetitive thoughts or behaviors

But some symptoms don’t tend to overlap.

Per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), OCD involves two main types of symptoms:

  • Obsessions: These are unwanted, intrusive thoughts.
  • Compulsions: These areurges to complete certain actions or rituals to neutralize intrusive thoughts.

Obsessions and compulsions aren’t part of the DSM-5 criteria for bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder involves extreme shifts between two mood states:

  • Mania: A state of heightened mood and energy, which can involve increased self-esteem, racing thoughts, and a reduced need for sleep.
  • Depression: A state of lowered mood and energy, which can involve sadness, hopelessness, fatigue, and suicidal thoughts.

Depending on which type of bipolar disorder a person has, they may tend more toward mania or depression.

Can bipolar disorder cause OCD symptoms?

Some experts believe that OCD is a secondary manifestation of a mood disorder like bipolar rather than a separate condition.

According to a 2016 review, people are more likely to experience OCD symptoms during depressive episodes than manic episodes. OCD symptoms are also more likely to occur in periods between depression and mania.

These findings suggest a biological link between bipolar disorder and OCD. But research on this link is limited.

Although the two conditions share some similarities, doctors treat them differently.

The first-line treatment for bipolar disorder is often a mood stabilizer, such as lithium. Medications in this class can help regulate mood and treat mania.

The first choice of medication for people with OCD is often a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This type of antidepressant works by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain.

Doctors are usually cautious about prescribing SSRIs to someone with bipolar disorder because they can worsen mania in some people. If you experience bipolar disorder and OCD symptoms, SSRIs may not be the best choice for you.

For people who live with bipolar disorder and OCD, regulating mood is important for treatment. Mood regulation might involve mood stabilizers, anticonvulsants, or antipsychotics.

You may also find self-help strategies useful for regulating your mood.

Once your mood is stabilized, if you’re still experiencing OCD symptoms, you and your doctor may discuss introducing an additional treatment such as an SSRI.

Psychotherapy can also help people with bipolar disorder and OCD.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), specifically exposure response prevention (ERP), is an effective OCD treatment. It can help you process the anxiety caused by obsessive thoughts and improve your response to triggers.

As with most mental health conditions, there’s no conclusive test for OCD or bipolar disorder.

A mental health professional will typically conduct a detailed clinical interview to get a complete picture of your symptoms and history. They may ask about:

  • any past or current episodes of mania or depression
  • the duration and severity of any mood episodes
  • any history of obsessive or intrusive thoughts
  • any history of compulsive behavior
  • the effect of your symptoms on your relationships, work, and general day-to-day living
  • any other diagnoses or conditions, or any substance use
  • any family history of mental health conditions

Your doctor may also conduct lab tests to rule out potential underlying causes for your symptoms. Some physical conditions can mimic the symptoms of psychiatric illnesses, including:

Bipolar disorder and OCD can both make everyday life more challenging. If you live with one or both of these conditions, it’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed and hopeless at times.

But know that you’re not alone. Bipolar disorder and OCD are relatively common conditions that happen together for many people.

Both conditions are treatable, but they require slightly different treatment strategies. It’s a good idea to be as open as possible with a doctor, so they can work with you to develop an effective treatment plan.