Is Prozac Good for OCD?
When you’re struggling with OCD, you’re desperate to feel even just a little bit better. Most people say they’d try just about anything to find some relief from the agonizing cycle of obsessions and compulsions. Luckily for them, there are treatments that have been found to be incredibly effective in the treatment of OCD, including an antidepressant called Prozac.
At the same time, it can be a scary experience to start on a new medication. Doubts about side effects, safety, and effectiveness may be swirling around your head, and OCD usually only makes those doubts more intense. Although there is no definitive answer on whether or not Prozac will work for you, sometimes information helps you to weigh your options.
Here is your complete guide on everything you need to know about Prozac and OCD. Remember, this is just an informal guide; for up-to-date medical information and concerns regarding your specific situation, talk to your medical provider.
What Is Prozac?
Prozac is the most common brand name for an antidepressant medication called fluoxetine. Fluoxetine is also sold under the brand names Oxactin, Rapiflux, Sarafem, and Selfemra. It belongs to a category of antidepressants called SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors.
Prozac has long been one of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants in the world. It’s used for the treatment of depression along with all sorts of other mental illnesses. It’s even used for anxiety in dogs and cats!
When Was Prozac Invented?
The use of fluoxetine for treating depression was discovered by Eli Lilly and Company in the 1970s. Before this, antidepressant medications were mostly focused on the levels of norepinephrine (another chemical) in the brain, and not much research had been conducted on the importance of serotonin. These early antidepressants came with side effects and cardiovascular risks.
Chemists at Eli Lilly and Company started looking into possibilities for antidepressants that had fewer risks and side effects. In 1972, they invented fluoxetine. After years of clinical research, the medication was finally approved to be released to the public in 1987.
Prozac has been a gamechanger in the world of mental health treatment. Before Prozac, antidepressants were so risky that they were only prescribed to people with severe depression. Prozac was so safe, and came with such few side effects, that doctors began to prescribe it to patients who were just mildly depressed. In a way, it started to replace the use of psychotherapy for the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
Today, Prozac continues to be one of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants on the market, and it’s available worldwide.
How Do SSRIs Like Prozac Affect the Brain?
When your brain suffers from an illness like major depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder, different parts of it stop working like they’re supposed to. Specifically, the way that certain neurotransmitters (chemicals that act as messengers between cells and neurons) are released and absorbed is affected by these disorders.
One such neurotransmitter is called serotonin, and it’s responsible for regulating your mood, and creating feelings of general wellbeing and happiness. When your brain is suffering from OCD or depression, the levels of serotonin in your brain are off-kilter, causing you to experience those painful symptoms.
SSRIs like Prozac help to correct this chemical imbalance of serotonin in the brain. They block neurons from reabsorbing serotonin, which leads to an overall increase of serotonin in the brain — leading to a lift in mood.
Prozac isn’t the only SSRI on the market. Other examples of SSRI medications include sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram (Lexapro). All of them work in similar ways.
What Is Prozac Used For?
Again, Prozac is a type of antidepressant called SSRI. Considering this, it’s probably not surprising to learn that this medication was originally designed to treat – you guessed it – depression. However, research has shown that Prozac can be beneficial for treating the symptoms of many other mental health disorders as well.
Prozac for Clinical Depression
Most people are prescribed Prozac when they are experiencing symptoms of depression. Research has shown that Prozac is effective in treating depression symptoms and is a much safer option compared to older antidepressants. A literature review conducted by researchers at Eli Lilly and Company found that all meta-analyses confirmed that Prozac helped decrease symptoms of depression when compared with a placebo.
Prozac for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
This is most relevant for those of us on this blog. Fluoxetine, or Prozac, has been approved for the treatment of OCD. We’ll get into the details of how helpful it is later, but many people with OCD have experienced relief from their symptoms after taking SSRI medications, including Prozac.
Prozac for Bulimia Nervosa
Bulimia nervosa (often referred to as just “bulimia”) is a specific type of eating disorder, which is characterized by the cycle of binging and purging. People with bulimia eat a large amount of food at once, which they then feel ashamed about and try to counteract to get rid of the calories consumed. Usually, people with bulimia purge by vomiting what they’ve just eaten. However, other people exercise excessively or fast after their binge.
Prozac has been found to be helpful for people with bulimia, but not for anorexia and other eating disorders. It’s the only antidepressant approved by the FDA to treat bulimia.
Prozac for Panic Attacks
The use of Prozac has also been approved for the treatment of panic attacks. Panic attacks are an intense type of anxiety, which causes a pounding, fast heartbeat, sweating, shaking, hyperventilation, and even chest pain that feels like a heart attack. When people have recurring panic attacks, they may be diagnosed with panic disorder.
Prozac has been approved by the United States FDA for the treatment of panic attacks and panic disorder.
Prozac for Other Conditions
Sometimes, Prozac is used as an “off-label” drug for other conditions. This basically means that although there needs to be more research done in order to officially get Prozac approved for these conditions, it’s often prescribed with good results.
Some other mental health conditions that Prozac is prescribed for include borderline personality disorder, alcohol use disorder, attention-deficit disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, phobias, and sleep disorders.
It’s worth noting that Prozac has faced serious global shortages in recent years, mostly due to manufacturing decisions that were made. In 2019, the NHS released a serious shortage protocol for fluoxetine (Prozac) capsules. Since 2020, Australia has also faced a Prozac shortage. Veterinarians had to stop prescribing the antidepressant for animals so that there was enough Prozac to go around for the humans who needed it.
As of the time of writing, the U.K. has an active serious shortage protocol for fluoxetine capsules in 10, 30, and 40mg. Prozac is still available, however, and if you’re concerned about the shortages you should talk to your medical provider about it.
Side Effects of Prozac
Usually, when someone is considering starting on a new medication, one of the foremost questions in their minds is: is it safe?
Prozac is considered to be safe and well-tolerated by most people, and the side effects reported are usually rare. SSRIs like Prozac are so commonly described because they come with fewer side effects than older classes of antidepressants.
However, that doesn’t mean that there are no side effects to watch out for whatsoever. Most side effects of Prozac are mild and temporary, but there are some rare and dangerous side effects that people have reported. Talk to your doctor if any of these side effects are severe or don’t go away.
Common and Mild Side Effects of Prozac
The most commonly reported side effects of Prozac include:
- Digestive problems like nausea and diarrhea
- Dry mouth
- Tremors or shaking
- Changes in sex drive
- Anxiety and nervousness
- Changes in appetite and weight loss
- Tiredness or weakness
For most people, these side effects are temporary. Let your doctor know if these side effects are uncomfortable for you, and they can help you determine whether the benefits of the medication outweigh the discomfort of these effects.
Rare But Serious Side Effects
A few people have experienced more serious side effects with Prozac. If you experience any of the following, it’s crucial that you receive medical attention right away. They may be signs of an allergic reaction, overdose, or of something called serotonin syndrome.
- Rash, itchiness, or hives
- Mental confusion
- Joint pain
- Swelling in your face, throat, or limbs
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Symptoms like fever, sweating, agitation, hallucinations, irregular heartbeat, muscle stiffness, twitching, and tremors
- Any kind of change in your heartbeat (slow or fast)
- Unexplainable bleeding or bruises
Remember that these side effects are rare and happen for less than 1% of all people who take Prozac. Talk to a doctor about any concerns you have.
Suicidal Thoughts and Prozac
The FDA requires all SSRIs, including Prozac, to include a black box warning that these medications could increase suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children and youth up to the age of 25. Research supports the claim that there is a slight risk for already vulnerable young people to experience an increase in suicidal thoughts and feelings with SSRIs. There have been studies conducted, however, which have found that Prozac actually decreases suicidal thoughts in adults and older adults.
If you notice that your suicidal thoughts are getting worse, not better, after starting Prozac, tell your doctor right away. These thoughts and feelings might not be part of your mental illness, and actually be a side effect of the medication.
It is possible to overdose on Prozac or any other SSRI drug. Signs that you’ve taken too much Prozac include:
- Dizziness and fainting
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Feeling unsteady on your feet
- Losing consciousness
- Becoming unresponsive
These symptoms can quickly lead to serious and painful medical complications and even death. The exact amount of Prozac that leads to overdose is different for everyone, but it’s crucial to take only the amount prescribed by your doctor.
If you think you or someone you know has taken too much Prozac, call your emergency line or the Poison Control Center right away.
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Prozac and OCD
Let’s get into the most important information in this article: does Prozac really work for OCD? In this section, we’ll guide you through everything there is to know about taking Prozac if you have OCD, and whether or not this medication could help you find relief from your symptoms.
Does Prozac Work for OCD?
In a nutshell: yes, Prozac, and other SSRI drugs like it, are effective in the treatment of OCD. Medications like this alter the way different parts of our brains communicate with each other, and correct the way that OCD interrupts these important processes.
Research suggests that SSRI drugs like Prozac are the most helpful type of medication for the treatment of OCD. Before SSRIs came along, a drug called Anafranil used to be the most commonly prescribed drug for OCD patients. But Anafranil belongs to an older class of antidepressant medication called Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (vs. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, which aren’t the same thing). Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors cause people to experience many uncomfortable side effects.
The research tells us that SSRIs like Prozac are just as effective as SRIs like Anafranil for the treatment of OCD. Some people might have more luck with Anafranil, however; it’s just a matter of finding the medication that works for you.
On top of its effectiveness, research has found Prozac to be generally safe and well-tolerated by most people. Even uncomfortable side effects don’t usually get in the way of people continuing to take Prozac as prescribed. Because of all of these benefits, Prozac is one of the frontline treatments when it comes to treating people with OCD.
Prozac for OCD and Depression
OCD and depression have a deeply interwoven relationship. People with OCD have been found to have one of the highest comorbidity rates with OCD; over half of people with OCD also suffer from major depression symptoms at some point in their lives.
It isn’t hard to see why: living with OCD is depressing. OCD symptoms can cause major disruptions to our lives, including our jobs, our relationships, and our home lives.
For people who suffer from both OCD and depression, Prozac (and other antidepressants) can be especially helpful. Prozac essentially targets both OCD and depression, allowing you to just take one medication for both kinds of symptoms.
Other Medications for OCD
Prozac is one psychiatric medication that’s approved for treating OCD, but it isn’t the only one. A few other types of SSRIs are approved for the treatment of OCD. Besides Prozac, the other SSRIs that are used for OCD are:
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Paroxetine (Paxil)
In addition, a Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor called clomipramine (Anafranil) is also approved for OCD symptoms. This is the medication that was most often prescribed before SSRIs were invented. Since SSRIs are just as effective as Anafranil without the side effects, doctors usually opt for trying SSRI treatments first.
These are the medications that have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of OCD, but your doctor may choose to prescribe you with other types of psychiatric medication, especially if your OCD hasn’t improved with the above medications or if they gave you too many side effects.
Other medications that are sometimes prescribed for OCD include:
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Venlafaxine (Effexor)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
Finding the right medication for you can sometimes be a long and arduous journey, but it’s worth it. Many people have found relief from OCD symptoms with the use of these medications.
Use Prozac Alongside CBT Treatment
Medication is most effective in the treatment of OCD when it’s combined with a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy called Exposure and Response Prevention, or ERP. This combination is considered the “gold standard” in OCD treatment.
ERP guides patients with OCD to break out of the obsession-compulsion cycle. The tricky thing about having OCD is that when obsessive thinking takes over, it feels like performing a compulsion is the only thing that will mitigate the risk of whatever the feared event is. But this is a lie that our OCD brains tell us: actually, every time we perform a compulsion, our OCD gets stronger. The relief that the compulsion brings is incredibly brief, and then we’re back to doubting ourselves again.
ERP helps people to intentionally expose themselves to obsession triggers, instead of avoiding them. Then, instead of trying to get rid of the anxiety that this brings, ERP teaches you to familiarize yourself with the anxiety without using compulsions. This can be painfully difficult at first, but is effective. It makes obsessions less and less powerful instead of strengthening them with compulsions.
Prozac and other types of medications help this process get easier, as well. Even if it felt impossible not to react to obsessions with compulsions before, it may become possible for you with the help of medication.
Frequently Asked Questions About Prozac and OCD
If this article hasn’t yet answered your questions and concerns about Prozac and OCD, here are some more frequently asked questions to make sure that you receive all the information you’re looking for.
Q: Can Prozac worsen OCD?
A: Prozac does not typically worsen OCD symptoms. However, some people do experience side effects that include an increase in anxiety. These side effects are usually, but not always, temporary. If you’re feeling like your OCD is worse after starting on Prozac, talk with your prescribing doctor to figure out what your next steps might be.
Q: Does Prozac stop obsessive thoughts?
A: Yes, research shows us that Prozac is effective in reducing both obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Clinical studies use the Y-BOCS scale to measure how intense people’s OCD symptoms are before and after treatment; the Y-BOCS measures how disturbing obsessive thoughts are to your life. Obsessive thoughts decrease after taking Prozac. It doesn’t always work for everyone, though, so it’s important to tell your doctor if you’re still experiencing obsessions after being on Prozac.
Q: How quickly does Prozac work for OCD?
People usually need to take Prozac for 4 to 6 weeks before starting to experience the benefits. If you’ve just started on Prozac and don’t feel better yet, give it some time. If you’re concerned, talk to your prescribing doctor.
Q: Is Zoloft or Prozac better for OCD?
Research has found that the SSRIs that are approved for OCD, including both Prozac and sertraline, sold under the brand name Zoloft, all work about the same for the treatment of OCD. In other words, one isn’t more effective than the other. Some people find Prozac works better for them, and others prefer Zoloft.
OCD Recovery Is Possible
Whether you choose to go with Prozac or another medication, recovery from OCD is within your reach. Many people have successfully been able to manage their OCD symptoms to live successful, fulfilling, and happy lives.
Medications like Prozac are certainly helpful, and sometimes necessary. Our Impulse Therapy audio program can be used as an accompanying guide to your treatment journey, to equip you with the tools you need to understand and overcome the worst of your OCD symptoms. There are resources available to you, and life without OCD is possible.