What is PANDAS?

Many neuro-developmental disorders have puzzling symptoms. Obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behaviors, anxiety, physical or verbal tics, and oppositional, defiant behaviors are just a few of the difficult symptoms associated with these diagnosis. Many doctors believe that these symptoms are simply a part of living with a disorder such as autism, Tourette’s syndrome, or ADHD, but what if they’re not?

What if these symptoms are caused by a strep infection? And what if treating the strep infection could reduce or even eliminate many of these debilitating symptoms?

PANDAS stands for Paediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus. Symptoms often appear after a case of strep throat. Basically, the body’s defenses, which were hard at work attacking the streptococcal infection, have turned on the brain, specifically the part affecting fine motor skills and emotional regulation.

Dr. Denis Bouboulis, immunologist from Darien, Connecticut, and one of the top experts on PANDAS, says,

“It’s not a rare disorder, it’s just rarely diagnosed. There are a lot of children actually misdiagnosed as having a primary psychiatric symptoms, when in fact they are autoimmune and organic.”

Karli Bossman was a happy 5 year-old, until one day, she wasn’t. Almost overnight, she became obsessive and defiant. She refused to wear her socks and underwear because they “hurt,” and she refused to ride in the family car due to an obsessive fear that it would run out of gas. Her parents feared that she was being bullied at school, but this was not the case. Fourteen doctors and two years later they finally discovered what was wrong. Karli, who had suffered from at least 19 cases of strep throat during the last three years, had PANDAS. Getting the diagnosis was just the first step. Antibiotics often help with the symptoms in the short run, but the effects often wane over time.

At the Behavioral Neurotherapy Clinic in Victoria, Australia, Jacques Duff and Dr. Joe Natasi recommend,

“When PANDAS is suspected due to the diagnostic criteria being met, we hypothesize that a short period on antibiotics concurrent with and followed by ongoing nutrient supplementation to promote optimum brain cell plasma membranes and brain tissues may help brain recovery and protect against the full development of serious chronic psychiatric disorders.”

What are the signs that a child may have PANDAS? The symptoms are similar to many common neurological and behavioral disorders, including obsessive-compulsive fears or behaviors, motor or verbal tics, ADHD symptoms, mood changes, sleep disturbances, fine/gross motor changes, and joint pain. If these symptoms seem to come on suddenly, especially after a strep infection or a bout with the flu, then it may be PANDAS.

Unfortunately, a simple strep test at your child’s pediatrician’s office will not suffice. PANDAS is not a widely understood disorder, and most parents need to find specialists who are familiar with the disorder. The PANDAs Foundation offers a list of providers in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe on their website at http://www.pandasfoundation.org/pandasfoundation/Providers.html.

Finding the right treatment can reduce or eliminate the symptoms, and can help your child recover.