PANDAS: Not the cute bear
I just listened to a presentation by the Executive Director of the Pandas Network and a Physician about PANDAS/PANS. This is an autoimmune response to strep, other viruses and even parasites. It causes psychiatric problems in children. PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Bacteria. The virus mimics molecules that cross the barrier to the brain resulting in sudden and often very dramatic psychiatric and neurological symptoms as the body’s immune system attacks healthy brain tissue. If your child has OCD symptoms and/or tics, you really need to look into this. Researchers think as many as 1 in 200 kids are affected. That is astonishing.
Key Symptoms to look for with PANDAS
- Presence of obsessive-compulsive disorder and/or tic disorder
- Symptoms start in childhood (before puberty)
- The symptoms wax and wane. Often symptoms increase following infection.
- Association with group A beta-hemolytic streptococcal infection (a positive throat culture for strep or family history of scarlet fever).
- Association with neurological abnormalities like unusual or jerky movements that are not under child’s control
- Very sudden beginning or worsening of symptoms (obsessions, compulsions, tics and other kinds of anxiety)
Usually it presents as OCD and/or as tics. Most of the time these symptoms begin suddenly. However, the initial symptoms may not be dramatic enough for you to be alarmed. It might just look like an episode of anxiety that is just part of growing up. Over time with recurring infections the symptoms increase. Another problem in diagnosing is that the psychological symptoms may not appear right away after the infection. It can be as long as 4 to 6 months later. Not to be scary but in some cases, if left untreated, it can get very, very bad as in life threatening anorexia, psychosis or symptoms that completely debilitate.
If there is a family history of Scarlet Fever, Rheumatic Fever, Sydenham’s Chorea or other autoimmune diseases then the possibility this is at play increases. If discovered right away the treatment is much simpler and quicker. Here are some links to help you learn more about this.