Long-term outcome in adults with obsessive-compulsive disorder

Depress Anxiety. 2013 Aug;30(8):716-22. doi: 10.1002/da.22103. Epub 2013 Mar 26.


Background: Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic condition that often produces lifelong morbidity, but few studies have examined long-term outcome (greater than 5 years) in adult patients. Available studies suggest that 32-74% of adult OCD patients will experience clinical improvement over the long term. However, these studies were conducted before validated OCD rating scales were established and the development of evidence-based treatments for OCD.

Methods: We investigated the 10-20 year outcome of 83 of 165 eligible subjects previously enrolled after participation in placebo-controlled trials of serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI) medications for OCD. We examined the association between clinical characteristics at initial assessment and OCD symptom severity at follow-up. We hypothesized that primary OCD symptom dimension and initial response to pharmacotherapy with serotonin reuptake inhibitors would be associated with later symptom severity.

Results: Only 20% (17 of 83) of subjects had experienced a remission of their OCD symptoms at follow-up (Y-BOCS ≤ 8). Forty-nine percent (41 of 83) of subjects were still experiencing clinically significant OCD symptoms. Response to initial SRI pharmacotherapy was significantly associated with long-term outcome: 31% (13 of 42) of subjects who responded (CGI < 3) to initial SRI pharmacotherapy were remitted at follow-up, compared to 12% (3 of 25) of partial responders and none of the 16 subjects who had no response to initial SRI pharmacotherapy. We did not find a significant association between long-term clinical outcome and any of the OCD symptom dimensions.

Conclusion: Despite the introduction and dissemination of several evidence-based treatments for OCD, most adult OCD patients do not achieve remission. Initial response to pharmacotherapy was strongly associated with long-term outcome.

Keywords: OCD/obsessive compulsive disorder; anxiety/anxiety disorders; pharmacotherapy; treatment; treatment resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antipsychotic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Disease Progression*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / therapy
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antipsychotic Agents
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors