Clomipramine is a tricyclic antidepressant that is used for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The generic is relatively cheap while the branded Anafranil® is very expensive (about $1800 per month for 150 mg/day).
On this page, we address two questions:
1. Is clomipramine more efficacious than SSRIs?
2. Can clomipramine be considered a first-line alternative to SSRIs for the treatment of OCD?
It is unclear whether clomipramine is more efficacious than SSRIs
Clinical trials that directly (“head-to-head”) compare clomipramine to an SSRI generally do not find clomipramine to be more efficacious (American Psychiatric Association, 2007).
However, when these data were combined in meta-analyses (references below), some of them found clomipramine may be more efficacious than SSRIs. The most recent meta-analysis (Skapinakis et al., 2016), however, did not find clomipramine to be more efficacious than SSRIs.
The combination of these observations suggests that the difference in efficacy, if any, is probably not large.
Clomipramine is associated with more adverse effects than are the SSRIs
Clomipramine is associated with some troublesome adverse effects like dry mouth, dizziness, etc., and also with potential cardiovascular adverse effects. At higher doses, it usually requires doing periodic ECGs and measurements of serum level.
Notably, clomipramine is associated with significantly more weight gain than SSRIs, even more than paroxetine, the SSRI that is associated with the greatest weight gain. In a 2.5-year follow-up study, clomipramine was associated with the greatest increase in weight increase and fluoxetine and sertraline with the least (Maina et al., 2004). The percentage of patients who gained 7% of more of their baseline weight were: clomipramine 35%, fluoxetine 9%, sertraline 5%.
Since it is not clear that clomipramine is substantially more efficacious than SSRIs and clomipramine has more adverse effects than SSRIs, the American Psychiatric Association’s Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (2007) recommends that SSRIs should be used as first-line treatments for OCD rather than clomipramine.
American Psychiatric Association. Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association, 2007. Available online at http://psychiatryonline.org/pb/assets/raw/sitewide/practice_guidelines/guidelines/ocd.pdf. Guideline Watch (2013) available at http://psychiatryonline.org/pb/assets/raw/sitewide/practice_guidelines/guidelines/ocd-watch.pdf
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