The PANDAS that I’m talking about has nothing to do with these guys …
… and everything to do with childhood strep throat.
PANDAS = Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections
PANDAS describes a set of children in whom an ordinary bacterial strep infection can turn into a neuropsychiatric disorder. The strep seems to cause the body’s immune system to build up antibodies that – who knows why – turn traitor and attack the basal ganglia in the brain.
In other words, a simple case of strep throat gone to hell.
Sometimes a child gets strep throat, and the body gets confused– instead of fighting off the bacteria, it attacks the basal ganglia … which leads to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The first time I had an intake with a psychiatrist, she asked about my past medical issues. “Ummm … I broke my elbow twice,” I said, thinking how a broken bone had nothing to do with my head issues. I reached: “And I’ve had strep throat like a million times.” I felt a little stupid and way too thorough. Keep it to related issues, I thought to myself. Duh.
But my psychiatrist perked up. “Did you know there’s a strong connection between strep throat and OCD?” the doctor asked me.
Apparently, this is a little controversial, and some doctors aren’t convinced. But come on– how many cases of strep-followed-by-rapid-onset-of-OCD do you have to see before you raise an eyebrow at the connection?
My doctor– Dr. Suck-Won Kim, the absolutely brilliant OCD expert at the University of Minnesota– believes there is a strong correlation, and I’m in his court.
A scene cut from my book:
“You have heard of PANDAS?” he asked.
“I have,” I said, although I couldn’t remember at the moment what it stood for. “It’s when kids get strep throat and then OCD. Or something like that.” I realized that I probably sounded stupid, explaining PANDAS to an OCD expert.
“So many PANDAS studies … it has to be solved because far more OCD cases are strep-linked than people know.”
“Yes, I had strep a lot as a kid.”
“YOU DID? YOU SEE?!” Dr. Lee became animated as if a moment ago I’d said no such link between strep and OCD existed but now he was proving me wrong.
“The first time I met with a psychiatrist, she asked about my medical history. I didn’t have a lot to share, but I happened to throw it out there that I’d had strep throat a lot, and she said it was probably connected.”
“She knew that?” asked Dr. Lee, impressed. “That is uncommon. Most doctors have no clue.”
For more information on PANDAS, feel free to check out
- NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) website
- An article about it written by Dr. Kim (and others) (not light reading!)
I think I had strep throat nine times as a child. Can anyone beat that? Leave a comment!