Obsessive-compulsive disorder has a reduced placebo (and antidepressant) response compared to other anxiety disorders: A meta-analysis

Michael A. Sugarman*, Irving Kirsch, Jonathan D. Huppert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Background Previous studies have indicated that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might have a reduced placebo response compared to other anxiety-related disorders including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety disorder. No previous analysis has directly compared antidepressant and placebo responses between OCD and these conditions. Method We analyzed pre-post change scores within drug and placebo groups as well as between-groups change scores (i.e., drug compared to placebo) for all FDA-approved antidepressants for the treatment of these five anxiety-related disorders. Antidepressants included duloxetine, escitalopram, fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, paroxetine, sertraline, and venlafaxine. Random effects meta-analysis was used to examine all trials submitted to the FDA, plus additional post-approval trials available from manufacturer-sponsored clinical trial registers. Clinician-rated symptom inventories were the outcome measures for all conditions to facilitate comparisons across diagnoses. Results Fifty-six trials met inclusion criteria. OCD had significantly lower pre-post effect sizes (ps<0.003) for both placebo (Hedges' g=0.49) and antidepressants (g=0.84) compared to the other four conditions (gs between 0.70 and 1.10 for placebo and 1.11 and 1.40 for antidepressants). However, the drug-placebo effect sizes did not significantly differ across diagnoses (Q(4)=6.09, p=0.193, I2 =34.3% [95% CI: −7.0,59.7]), with gs between=0.26 and 0.39. Conclusions Overall pre-post change scores were smaller for OCD compared to other anxiety disorders for both antidepressants and placebo, although drug-placebo effects sizes did not significantly differ across disorders. Theoretical and clinical implications for the understanding and treatment of OCD are discussed.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)217-226
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - 15 Aug 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017


  • Antidepressants
  • Anxiety
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Meta-analysis
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Placebo


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