OCD and Bipolar Disorder: What Are the Differences?

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.