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PANDAS and Immune Function

PANDAS and Immune Function

Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal Infection (PANDAS for short) is an autoimmune condition that can cause significant disruptions in a child’s neurological activity. It was first described in a 1998 article published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

PANDAS usually shows up in kids between the ages of 3 and 12. Kids with PANDAS seem to change overnight. They go from being their usually happy selves to being aggressive, anxious, moody, and obsessive-compulsive. They might even experience uncontrollable body movements or develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms.

One challenge with PANDAS is that it can be difficult to diagnose. Not every doctor is familiar with the disease, and some might downplay the symptoms or assume they’re simply signs of a kid growing up. That’s why parents need to know what PANDAS is so they can recognize the symptoms.

What Causes PANDAS?

There’s still a lot we don’t know about what, exactly, causes PANDAS. What we do know is that it’s triggered by the body’s immune response to a Group A Streptococcal (GAS) infection, or what parents refer to simply as strep throat.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), some immune triggers can worsen existing neuropsychiatric symptoms like tics and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). However, the exact link between the immune system and neuropsychiatric symptoms isn’t clear. 

So, kids who show abrupt changes in their mood and behavior who have also recently had strep might have PANDAS. Doctors will check for strep using a throat swab. A blood test can tell doctors if your child had strep, even if they’ve recovered.

PANDAS and the Immune System

PANDAS is part of a larger category of autoimmune diseases known as pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome (PANS). Like PANDAS, PANS affects the brain and can cause abrupt symptoms that completely alter your child’s behavior and mood. 

PANS can be triggered by something other than strep. Like PANDAS, it’s the immune system’s response to the illness, rather than the illness itself, that causes the disease. 

Treatment for PANDAS

The good news is that PANDAS is treatable. The hardest part is usually getting a diagnosis. But, once you have one, you can take steps to get your child back to feeling like themself again.

Treatment plans can vary but usually incorporate a combination of medication (e.g., antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medicines) and cognitive therapy to help your child cope with their OCD. 

In some more extreme cases, kids might need to reset their immune system through plasmapheresis. This process removes and filters blood to eliminate the antibodies attacking their brain. Another option is an IVIG, which infuses their blood with antibodies. These traditional medical treatments should be paired with natural nutritional options as well.

It can take several months for treatments to work. In addition, it can take some trial and error to figure out a treatment plan that helps your child and doesn’t exacerbate their symptoms. Unfortunately, a lot of kids end up having horrible side effects to standard ADHD and OCD medications because of PANDAS.  

During this time, it’s vital for you to work with your child’s doctor and therapist to understand the best ways to help them manage their symptoms and work through their fears. 

At NutriTots, our doctors are well-versed in helping kids with PANDAS through neurosensory rehab and functional medicine. If you want to work with them, visit their clinic site to book a free 20 minute discovery call.

At NutriTots, we want to help all kids stay healthy. Visit our library for more articles on childhood health and nutrition.