The 8 Best Medications for OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Medications

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What Medications Work Best for OCD?

Getting help for OCD

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common mental health issue. The International OCD Foundation estimates that 1 in 100 adults in the United States have OCD. Around 1 in 200 teens and children have OCD.

While there is no cure for OCD, some types of therapy and medications can help people control their symptoms.

What is OCD?

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (ODC) is a chronic mental health disorder. A person with OCD can have intrusive reoccurring thoughts called obsessions. The thoughts are uncontrollable.

Common obsessive thoughts can be something like having things in perfect order or symmetry. It could be aggressive thoughts toward themselves or other people. Fear of germs or being contaminated is another common obsessive thought.

Obsessive thoughts are not limited to the suggestions above, it could be any repeated thought that brings on anxiety.

They may also have behaviors that they repeat over and over again. These are called compulsions. Often, compulsions are a person’s response to obsessive thoughts.

Common compulsive behaviors can be arranging items in a particular order or repeatedly checking that the door is locked. It could also be compulsive counting, handwashing, or cleaning.

People with OCD have significant problems in their daily lives because of obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors.

How is OCD treated?

More than therapy – a complete program

OCD is usually treated professionally with therapy and medication as needed. Here at Modern, we provide online OCD therapy and medication management through an immersive program.

  • Personalized therapy: Your therapist will help you identify problems and provide a treatment plan to guide your recovery.
  • Medication management: We’ll manage your prescriptions and adjust based on progress.
  • Group sessions: You’ll learn from the real-world experiences of others while giving and receiving support.
  • Recovery coach: Your coach will be there for you to reach out to for help and guidance.
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Who is affected by OCD?

Let’s look in more detail at those mental health disorders which are the most prevalent and widespread in the U.S., each of them affecting millions and millions of people every single year, and the range of symptoms (from mild to severe) that impact sufferers on a daily basis.

What causes OCD?

There is not a well-defined cause of OCD. There are three main theories for how OCD begins. The theories are:

  • Genetics – there could be a genetic predisposition for OCD. A specific gene has not yet been identified.
  • Biology – a change in the body’s chemistry or brain function could set off the symptoms of OCD.
  • Learned behavior – it is possible for obsessive fears and compulsive behavior to be learned over time by watching family members who have the behaviors.

There are some recognized risk factors for developing OCD. Going through a traumatic or stressful event can trigger symptoms of OCD. Childhood trauma or abuse may also be connected to OCD.

Having a family member with OCD increases a person’s chances of developing the disorder. It is possible that having another mental health disorder like depression or substance use can increase the possibility of having OCD.

How is OCD diagnosed?

OCD can be difficult to diagnose, symptoms are similar to other disorders like anxiety. This is especially true for anyone who may already have another mental health disorder.

Not everyone who thinks obsessive thoughts or does certain behaviors has OCD. Symptoms are considered OCD when any of the following are true:

  • Spending at least one hour each day on the thoughts or behaviors.
  • Getting brief relief from anxiety after doing compulsive behaviors, but not getting pleasure from the behaviors.
  • Not being able to control thoughts or behaviors even when knowing they are excessive.
  • The thoughts and/or behaviors cause serious problems in everyday life.

Need support for your OCD? We’re here to help!

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What medications work best for OCD?

No medication has been specifically created to treat OCD. Doctors often prescribe antidepressants to help treat OCD symptoms.

Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) work well to help control OCD symptoms. Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) are another type of antidepressant that can be helpful to people suffering from OCD symptoms.

The following antidepressants are FDA approved to treat OCD:

  • Anafranil (clomipramine)
  • Luvox (fluvoxamine)
  • Paxil (paroxetine)
  • Prozac (fluoxetine)
  • Zoloft (sertraline)

These antidepressants can be prescribed off-label to help with OCD symptoms:

  • Celexa (citalopram)
  • Effexor (venlafaxine)
  • Lexapro (escitalopram)

Off-label use means that an FDA-approved drug is used in a different way than it was intended. This can happen if a healthcare provider thinks the drug will be beneficial to the patient. For example, a situation where a patient has tried all the medications approved for their condition with no improvement.

Anafranil (clomipramine)

Anafranil is a tricyclic antidepressant. It works in a way similar to an SSRI by keeping the amount of serotonin in the brain at a higher level. This medicine has been shown to work well in treating OCD, but is not usually the first prescribed drug due to side effects.

Common side effects of Anafranil include:

  • Sweating
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Tremors, jerking muscle movement
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Feeling nervous
  • Urination problems
  • Vision changes
  • Decreased sex drive

There are more serious side effects possible. Anyone experiencing the following side effects should call their doctor right away:

  • Low sodium levels (headache, confusion, slurred speech, severe weakness)
  • Confusion, extreme fear
  • Thoughts of hurting oneself
  • Eye pain, blurred vision, tunnel vision
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Seizure

Luvox (Fluvoxamine)

Luvox can be used to treat OCD symptoms in children over age 8 and adults. A study using the extended-release version of the medicine showed improvement over a twelve-week period.

The improvements were in overall mental health, emotions, and interactions with other people.

Luvox does have some common side effects:

  • Nervousness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Weakness
  • Constipation

Some less common, but more serious side effects that could happen include:

  • Mood, behavior, or mental changes
  • Trouble breathing
  • Twitching
  • Problems urinating
  • Confusion
  • Inability to move the eyes
  • Seizures

If someone is having those side effects they should contact their doctor quickly.

Paxil (Paroxetine)

Paxil is an SSRI used to treat a variety of mental health issues. This includes OCD, depression, PTSD, anxiety, and panic disorder. It can be used by adults aged 18 and older.

It is important to know that people taking Paxil can develop angle-closure glaucoma. If someone taking Paxil has eye pain, changes in vision, swelling, or redness in or around the eye, they should get medical help right away.

Some of the most common side effects of Paxil include headache, sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, gas, stomach pain, forgetfulness, decreased appetite, heartburn, confusion, dry mouth, sweating, yawning, and tenderness or swelling of joints. While these side effects may be uncomfortable, they are usually not serious. However, there are some potentially serious side effects of Paxil, including hallucinations, chest pain, seizures, and fainting. It is important to speak with a healthcare professional if you experience any of these more severe side effects while taking Paxil.

Prozac (Fluoxetine)

Prozac can be used to treat depression, eating disorders, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and OCD. Prozac may improve symptoms like washing compulsions and obsessive thoughts. It has been approved for use in OCD patients aged 7 and older.

Common Prozac side effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Strange dreams
  • Upset stomach
  • Sinus pain
  • Sore throat
  • Hot flashes

Some severe side effects of Prozac include low levels of sodium in the blood, which can lead to confusion, seizures, and coma. Other potential serious side effects include: blurred vision, tunnel vision, and eye pain, which could be signs of a rare condition known as angle-closure glaucoma. Prozac may also cause a pounding or fluttering heartbeat, which can be a sign of an abnormal heart rhythm. Additionally, some people may experience rigid muscles, a condition known as serotonin syndrome, which can be life-threatening if left untreated. If you experience any of these serious side effects while taking Prozac, seek medical attention immediately.

Zoloft (Sertraline)

Zoloft can be taken by children aged 6 and up as well as adults for OCD treatment. Zoloft is also used to treat depression, social anxiety disorder, PTSD, and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. This medication is also sometimes used to treat headaches.

Zoloft is an SSRI. Some of the possible side effects of taking Zoloft include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Problems falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Dry mouth
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Nervousness
  • Excessive sweating

More serious side effects are possible with Zoloft, including:

  • Hives, rash
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Abnormal bleeding or bruising
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Loss of coordination

Celexa (Citalopram)

Celexa is an SSRI used to treat depression. Celexa is not approved to be used by children.

People using Celexa to treat OCD take a higher dosage than those using it for depression. The higher dosage can increase the risk for heart-related side effects like heart palpitations.

Some common side effects of Celexa include:

Zoloft is an SSRI. Some of the possible side effects of taking Zoloft include:

  • Muscle or joint aches
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Hot flashes
  • Insomnia
  • Dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual periods)
  • Upper respiratory infections

Effexor (Venlafaxine)

Effexor is an SNRI used to treat major depressive disorder in adults. It can also be used to treat panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. Effexor may sometimes be used off-label to treat OCD.

Common side effects while using Effexor are:

  • Dry mouth
  • Yawning
  • Nausea
  • Increased sweating
  • Tremors
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision

Some of the possible side effects include low sodium levels, which can cause confusion, headaches, and seizures. Additionally, Effexor can lead to unusual nosebleeds or bleeding gums, chest tightness, and trouble breathing, which could indicate serious allergic reactions. In rare cases, severe nervous system reactions such as seizures may also occur.

Lexapro (Escitalopram)

Lexapro is an SSRI used to treat depression and generalized anxiety disorder. It can be used off-label to treat OCD.

Some common possible side effects of using Lexapro are:

  • Dry mouth
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Sleepiness or trouble sleeping
  • Bloated or full feeling
  • Runny nose
  • Unusual dreams
  • Muscle and joint aches
  • Increased sweating

Serotonin Syndrome

Something to watch closely for when taking any SSRI or SNRI is Serotonin Syndrome. This happens when there is too much serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin syndrome might happen when starting a new medication or increasing the dosage of a current medication. Symptoms of mild serotonin syndrome are:

  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Dilated pupils
  • Rapid heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Heavy sweating
  • Shivering, goosebumps
  • Muscle rigidity


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