Background: Temper outbursts in youth with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are a common source of concern, but remain poorly understood. This study examined a set of hypotheses related to: (a) the prevalence of temper outbursts in paediatric OCD, (b) the associations of temper outbursts with OCD severity and depressive symptoms; and (c) the influence of temper outbursts on treatment response.
Methods: The prevalence of temper outbursts was estimated in a specialist OCD clinical sample (n = 387) using parent- and child-report. This was replicated in a community sample (n = 18,415). Associations of temper outbursts with obsessive-compulsive symptoms and with depressed mood were examined using logistic regression models. The influence of temper outbursts on treatment response was examined in a subsample of 109 patients treated with cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) with or without medication.
Results: Over a third of young people with OCD displayed temper outbursts, and rates were similar across the clinical and community samples. Temper outbursts were two to three times more common in youth with OCD than in healthy controls. However, OCD symptom severity was not a strong predictor of child- or parent-reported temper outbursts. Instead, both child- and parent- reported temper outbursts were significantly associated to depressive symptoms. CBT strongly reduced OCD and depressive symptoms, as well as the severity of temper outbursts. There was no significant difference in post-treatment OCD or depression scores between those with temper outbursts compared to those without.
Conclusions: Temper outbursts are common in youth with OCD and are particularly related to depressed mood. They improve with CBT for OCD and do not seem to impede OCD treatment response.