PANDAS disease (short for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections) isn’t a true disease. Instead, it is a rare disorder that can occur in children following a strep throat infection. With PANDAS strep, the child’s body sets up an immune response to the invading streptococcus bacteria, but ends up attacking the child’s own tissues in addition to the strep bacteria. The result is inflammation within the brain, and the dramatic onset of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), tics, intense anxiety and other debilitating symptoms.
The hallmark of PANDAS is that these new symptoms and disorders appear or worsen very suddenly. In fact, parents say they come “out of the blue” or that their child changes “overnight.” Keep in mind that children who have been previously diagnosed with OCD or tics will always have their good days and their bad days, so an upswing in symptoms does not necessarily mean the child has PANDAS disease just because they’ve had a throat infection. With PANDAS disease, however, the child’s tics or OCD would flare up dramatically and continue to stay elevated anywhere from several weeks to several months.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that the diagnosis of PANDAS syndrome is strictly a clinical diagnosis. There are no lab tests that can diagnose the PANDAS disorder. Additionally, the diagnosis of PANDAS is controversial, so some clinicians either don’t understand it or may overlook the syndrome.
Currently, the only way to determine whether a child has PANDAS disease is to look at the clinical features of the illness, so health care providers use diagnostic criteria to make a PANDAS diagnosis.
- Presence of obsessive-compulsive disorder and/or a tic disorder
- Pediatric onset of symptoms (age 3 years to puberty)
- Episodic course of symptom severity (see information below)
- Association with group A Beta-hemolytic streptococcal infection (a positive throat culture for strep or history of scarlet fever)
- Association with neurological abnormalities (physical hyperactivity, or unusual, jerky movements that are not in the child’s control)
- Very abrupt onset or worsening of symptoms
If the symptoms have been present for more than a week, blood tests may be done to document a preceding streptococcal infection.
Additionally, the NIMH reports that children with PANDAS often experience one or more of the following symptoms in conjunction with their OCD and/or tics:
- ADHD symptoms (hyperactivity, inattention, fidgety)
- Separation anxiety (child is “clingy” and has difficulty separating from his/her caregivers; for example, the child may not want to be in a different room in the house from his or her parents)
- Mood changes, such as irritability, sadness, emotional lability (tendency to laugh or cry unexpectedly at what might seem the wrong moment)
- Trouble sleeping, night-time bed-wetting, day-time frequent urination or both
- Changes in motor skills (e.g. changes in handwriting)
- Joint pains
PANDAS Disease Risk Factors
The risk factors for PANDAS syndrome are:
- A family history of rheumatic fever
- The child’s mother has a personal history of an autoimmune disease
- The child has a history of recurrent group A streptococcal infections
- PANDAS is more common in males
- It is more common in prepubescent children
PANDAS Syndrome Treatment
Treatment for PANDAS disorder is medication to treat the strep throat infection (*Tip: Sterilize or replace toothbrushes during and following the antibiotics treatment, to make sure that the child isn’t re-infected with strep.). Treatment also includes medications to control the neuropsychological symptoms and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help with the child’s OCD or ADHD symptoms.
Research does not indicate long-term penicillin use to try to prevent recurrence of PANDAS disorder. Current information suggests the syndrome is caused by the antibodies produced by the child’s body in response to the streptococcus bacteria, not by the actual bacteria itself. Research also does not support the removal of the child’s tonsils strictly to prevent recurrence of PANDAS disease.
Have Questions about PANDAS Disease?
If you are concerned your child may have PANDAS syndrome after a strep throat infection, we can help. Our Children’s Center focuses specifically on offering a variety of clinical, therapeutic, educational and supportive services to children ages two through twenty two in a warm and welcoming environment.
To learn more, contact the Children’s Center for Psychiatry Psychology and Related Services in Delray Beach, Florida or call us today at (561) 223-6568.