When we’re talking about PANDAS and autism, we’re not talking about the cute black and white bears. PANDAS, as it relates to autism, means Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disease Associated with Strep.
This condition is rare but it is more common among certain populations. PANDAS is a condition that shares many similarities with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism. Overall, 1-3% of children are diagnosed with OCD. In up to 5% of children diagnosed with OCD, PANDAS is the root cause of their symptoms.
Since 17% of autistic children have OCD, it stands to reason that a higher percentage of autistic kids are affected by PANDAS than their neurotypical peers.
So what exactly is PANDAS? Let’s take a look at each piece of the acronym.
The Basics of PANDAS
- Pediatric: This simply means the condition occurs in children as opposed to adults.
- Autoimmune: An autoimmune disease is one where our body sees its own cells and tissues as a forgein invader. In response our body begins to attack itself. More common autoimmune diseases include: rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.
- Neuropsychiatric: This indicates that the condition relates to a disorder of the brain or nervous system.
- Disease Associated with Strep: Streptococcal infections (strep) are not uncommon. In fact, we have strep growing in our bodies all the time. It becomes a problem when the bacteria starts growing in the wrong place like your throat or mouth. Infections like strep throat, can damage your body’s other organ systems and lead to PANDAS.
To put all of that together, PANDAS is an acute onset disease occurring within four to six weeks after strep infection.
Symptoms of PANDAS
PANDAS presents with both physical and psychological symptoms.
- Tics and unusual movements
- Sensitivity to lights, sound, and touch
- Deterioration of small motor skills or handwriting
- Hyperactivity or an inability to focus
- Memory problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Refusing to eat, which can lead to weight loss
- Joint pain
- Frequent urination and bedwetting
- Obsessive, compulsive, and repetitive behaviors
- Separation anxiety, fear, and panic attacks
- Incessant screaming, irritability, and frequent mood changes
- Emotional, behavioral, and developmental regression
- Depression and suicidal thoughts
PANDAS requires a clinical diagnosis. That means there’s no single test for it. If you or your health care provider suspect your child has PANDAS they may test their brain waves, draw blood to evaluate their antibody levels, or perform a sleep study to rule out other autoimmune diseases.
Once PANDAS is identified as the cause of your child’s symptoms, the threefold treatment can begin.
- Treat the infection: The first step is to treat the strep infection with antibiotics. Antibiotic treatment for PANDAS usually requires a longer round of antibiotics than what you would use for a typical strep infection.
- Modulate the immune system and inflammation: Your medical provider may recommend the use of steroids or NSAIDS to modify your child’s immune response.
- Medications for symptom control: The final step is to treat the individual symptoms. This may mean the use of anxiety meds, mood stabilizers, or antidepressants.
I am always trying to find natural treatments for common problems. And while there are many natural options that can help treat strep and PANDAS, the seriousness of the conditions warrants the use of more traditional medicines. However, if you’re interested in investigating natural treatments to use in conjunction with traditional medicine you can visit the Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (MAPS) website to find the right provider for you.
Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing a great job.
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