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Question: Understanding and Managing Anxiety/OCD: A Case Study of Mary

10 Jul 2024,2:25 AM

Mary is a 32-year-old African American female who presents to you for treatment for Anxiety/OCD. As a child, she was told that she was a “worrywart” and was worried about small things. After a few life stressors, Mary states that she started having irrational fears about people breaking into her home which prompted her to repeatedly check door locks. She is also worried about contracting illnesses from touching surfaces/doorknobs and washes her hands until she uses the entire bar of soap. Her hands are dry, cracking, and starting to bleed. She is starting to fall behind at work due to double checking her work and re-doing tasks that used to be easy to complete.

What is the neurobiological basis for Anxiety/OCD? Provide a concept map of the relationships.
What classes of medication could you potentially prescribe based on the diagnosis? For each class of drugs, briefly provide the mechanism of action, the therapeutic effects, common side effects, and considerations for drug monitoring (Labs, EKGs, etc.).
Which medications, if any, would not be appropriate for this diagnosis? Are there any implications based on age or other patient characteristics?
Which drug would you choose for this patient and why? Provide non-biased patient or family education about the drug considering any potential communication impairments, cognitive, or developmental concerns for this patient.
How will you evaluate the efficacy of the prescribed regimen?





Understanding and Managing Anxiety/OCD: A Case Study of Mary


Mary, a 32-year-old African American female, presents with symptoms of Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Her symptoms include irrational fears, repetitive checking behaviors, and excessive hand washing. These behaviors have significantly impacted her daily life and work performance. This case raises several pertinent questions about the neurobiological underpinnings of Anxiety/OCD, appropriate pharmacological interventions, and the evaluation of treatment efficacy. This paper aims to explore these aspects in detail, providing a comprehensive understanding and treatment plan for Mary’s condition.

Neurobiological Basis for Anxiety/OCD

The Neurobiology of Anxiety and OCD

Anxiety and OCD are complex disorders with multifactorial etiologies, involving genetic, environmental, and neurobiological factors. Neuroimaging studies have identified abnormalities in several brain regions, including the orbitofrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and basal ganglia, particularly the caudate nucleus, in individuals with OCD (Menzies et al., 2008). These brain regions are part of a neural circuitry known as the cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical (CSTC) loop, which is believed to play a crucial role in the pathophysiology of OCD (van den Heuvel et al., 2016).

Genetic and Environmental Factors

Genetic studies suggest a hereditary component to OCD, with first-degree relatives of individuals with OCD being at a higher risk of developing the disorder (Pauls et al., 2014). Environmental factors, such as early life stressors, can also contribute to the onset and exacerbation of OCD symptoms. In Mary’s case, her childhood characterization as a “worrywart” and subsequent life stressors likely played a role in the development of her anxiety and OCD symptoms.

Classes of Medication for Anxiety/OCD

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

Mechanism of Action: SSRIs increase the levels of serotonin in the brain by inhibiting its reuptake into the presynaptic cell, thereby enhancing serotonin transmission (Stahl, 2013).

Therapeutic Effects: SSRIs are effective in reducing the symptoms of both anxiety and OCD by modulating serotonin levels, which are implicated in mood regulation and anxiety control (Fineberg et al., 2012).

Common Side Effects: Nausea, headache, sexual dysfunction, insomnia, and gastrointestinal disturbances are common side effects (Baldwin et al., 2014).

Considerations for Drug Monitoring: Regular monitoring of weight, appetite, and mood changes is recommended. EKG monitoring may be necessary for individuals with cardiac conditions (Zou et al., 2015).

Tricyclic Antidepressants (TCAs)

Mechanism of Action: TCAs inhibit the reuptake of norepinephrine and serotonin, increasing their levels in the brain (Stahl, 2013).

Therapeutic Effects: TCAs, particularly clomipramine, are effective in treating OCD symptoms, although they are generally not the first-line treatment due to their side effect profile (Fineberg et al., 2012).

Common Side Effects: Sedation, weight gain, dry mouth, constipation, and cardiovascular effects such as orthostatic hypotension and arrhythmias (Baldwin et al., 2014).

Considerations for Drug Monitoring: Regular monitoring of blood pressure, heart rate, and EKG is essential due to the potential for cardiovascular side effects (Zou et al., 2015).


Mechanism of Action: Benzodiazepines enhance the effect of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) at the GABA-A receptor, leading to increased inhibitory effects in the brain (Stahl, 2013).

Therapeutic Effects: Benzodiazepines are effective in the short-term management of acute anxiety symptoms but are not recommended for long-term use due to the risk of dependence and tolerance (Baldwin et al., 2014).

Common Side Effects: Drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, and dependence (Baldwin et al., 2014).

Considerations for Drug Monitoring: Regular monitoring for signs of dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms is necessary (Zou et al., 2015).

Medications Not Appropriate for This Diagnosis

Antipsychotics: While antipsychotics can be used as adjunctive therapy in treatment-resistant OCD, they are not typically recommended as first-line treatments due to their potential side effects, including weight gain, metabolic syndrome, and extrapyramidal symptoms (Fineberg et al., 2012).

Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): These are generally not recommended due to their significant dietary restrictions, potential for hypertensive crises, and interactions with other medications (Baldwin et al., 2014).

Implications Based on Age and Patient Characteristics

Age: SSRIs are generally well-tolerated across different age groups, but the risk of side effects such as sexual dysfunction and weight gain may be more pronounced in younger and middle-aged adults (Zou et al., 2015).

Patient Characteristics: Mary’s African American ethnicity may necessitate careful consideration of her metabolic response to medications, as some studies suggest differences in drug metabolism among different ethnic groups (Zou et al., 2015).

Choosing a Drug for Mary

Recommended Medication: SSRI (e.g., Sertraline or Fluoxetine)

Rationale: SSRIs are the first-line treatment for both anxiety and OCD due to their efficacy, safety profile, and relatively mild side effects compared to other classes of medications (Fineberg et al., 2012). Sertraline and fluoxetine are particularly well-studied and have a strong evidence base supporting their use in OCD (Fineberg et al., 2012).

Patient and Family Education

Mechanism of Action: Explain that SSRIs help to balance serotonin levels in the brain, which can improve mood and reduce anxiety and obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

Therapeutic Effects: Emphasize the importance of adherence to the prescribed regimen, as it may take several weeks to notice the full therapeutic effects. Discuss the potential for initial side effects and the importance of not discontinuing the medication without consulting the healthcare provider.

Common Side Effects: Provide information on possible side effects, such as nausea, headache, and insomnia, and advise on strategies to manage them.

Monitoring: Explain the necessity of regular follow-up appointments to monitor progress and any potential side effects. Highlight the importance of reporting any significant changes in mood or behavior.

Communication and Cognitive Considerations: Use simple, clear language and visual aids if necessary to ensure understanding. Involve family members in the education process to provide support and reinforcement.

Evaluating the Efficacy of the Prescribed Regimen

Regular Follow-Up Appointments

Schedule regular follow-up appointments to assess Mary’s response to the medication, monitor for side effects, and adjust the dosage if necessary. Utilize standardized assessment tools, such as the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale (Y-BOCS) and the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale (HAM-A), to objectively measure symptom improvement (Goodman et al., 1989; Hamilton, 1959).

Patient Self-Reports

Encourage Mary to keep a symptom diary to track her anxiety and OCD symptoms, noting any changes in frequency, intensity, and triggers. This self-monitoring can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of the treatment regimen and identify areas that may require additional intervention.

Family and Social Feedback

Gather feedback from Mary’s family and social circle regarding any observable changes in her behavior and functioning. Their observations can provide a more comprehensive picture of her progress and highlight any areas of concern that Mary may not report.

Laboratory and Diagnostic Monitoring

Depending on the prescribed medication, regular laboratory tests and EKGs may be necessary to monitor for potential side effects and ensure Mary’s safety. For example, if a TCA is prescribed, regular EKG monitoring is essential due to the risk of cardiovascular side effects.


Treating Mary’s anxiety and OCD requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the neurobiological basis of her condition, selects appropriate pharmacological interventions, and continuously evaluates treatment efficacy. SSRIs, such as sertraline or fluoxetine, are recommended as the first-line treatment due to their efficacy and safety profile. Regular follow-up appointments, patient self-reports, family feedback, and laboratory monitoring are essential components of an effective treatment plan. Through this multifaceted approach, Mary can achieve significant symptom relief and improved quality of life.

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