What is the role of medications in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)?

Updated: May 17, 2018
  • Author: William M Greenberg, MD; Chief Editor: David Bienenfeld, MD  more...
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First-line pharmacologic treatments consist of 5-HT reuptake inhibitors, such as the SSRIs (fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, sertraline, paroxetine, citalopram, escitalopram), and clomipramine (Anafranil), a tricyclic antidepressant [TCA] with 5-HT and NE reuptake inhibition. Possible alternatives include venlafaxine, a serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). All of these are commonly used to treat OCD, although not all have received an indication from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for this disorder.

Unlike in the case of major depression, complete or near-complete remission of OCD symptoms is rare with only serotonergic antidepressant treatment. More typically, perhaps half of patients may experience symptom reductions of 30-50%, as measured by the Y-BOCS, with many other patients failing to achieve even this degree of relief.

Doses above those needed for treatment of depression may be more effective for some patients. A therapeutic dose for 6-10 weeks may be required to observe a clinical response. Response tends to be slow and continue for at least 12 weeks (the common duration of OCD pharmacologic clinical trials), unlike the use of these same antidepressants in the treatment of major depressive episodes, where responses are more often seen somewhat earlier.

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