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Can Lyme Disease Cause PANDAS?

Lyme disease can affect both physical and mental health in various ways. The disease, transmitted by infected ticks, is caused by the borrelia bacteria. When Lyme disease is not treated promptly, it can lead to health issues such as cognitive decline, joint pain and inflammation, arthritic conditions, and nervous system issues. Lyme disease has also been associated with the onset or worsening of other health conditions.

If a child contracts Lyme disease, they can also develop a condition known as PANDAS. But what is PANDAS, exactly? And can Lyme disease cause PANDAS directly?

What is PANDAS?

Pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders, otherwise known as PANDAS, are disorders that are associated with the Streptococcus pyogens bacteria. The syndrome typically occurs following a child contracting a streptococcus infection. Although these kinds of infections are generally mild and present with only a skin infection or sore throat, they can lead to more severe health disorders.

Health conditions such as strep throat, scarlet fever, and other similar illnesses can all develop following an infection with the strep bacteria. Children who come into contact with infected air droplets from a person sneezing or coughing in the air can get the infection. While a strep infection doesn’t affect all children seriously, when it does, it can develop into PANDAS.

tick on leaf
Image by Flash Dantz on Unsplash: Lyme disease is caused by becoming infected with the borrelia bacteria from infected ticks – but can Lyme disease lead to PANDAS? 

The signs and symptoms associated with the condition are both psychological and physiological and can include:

  • Obsessive and compulsive behaviors
  • Panic attacks and new anxiety
  • Frequently changing moods
  • Incessant screaming or irritability
  • A regression in emotional development
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression and suicidal ideation
  • Physical tics or movements that are unusual in nature
  • Small motor skill deterioration
  • Hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Joint pain
  • Catatonia

This list is not exhaustive, and there are many other symptoms associated with the disease. Children who develop PANDAS will not exhibit all symptoms at the same time, but they will always have both physical and mental symptoms present if they have the syndrome.

Can Lyme cause autoimmune disorders?

Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system mistakes healthy tissue for foreign threats and begins to attack it. It goes into overdrive to rid the body of what it thinks is trying to harm it, and essentially destroys healthy cells and causes illness. It’s thought that Lyme disease, because of its negative effects on the health of many parts of the body, can lead to the development of autoimmune disease. Even with treatment, Lyme disease can continue to wreak havoc on the body because it evades detection from medications by hiding away in tissues.

Research has shown that Lyme disease affects the body in various ways. Parts of the body that are commonly affected include the nervous system, the cardiovascular system, the joints, and the muscles. Because of the way late-stage Lyme disease affects all areas of the body, the symptoms that are present often appear similar to autoimmune disease. Because of this, recent studies have suggested that Lyme disease does not just present the same as an autoimmune disease; it can actually induce chronic autoimmune disease. The research suggests that this is because of the way the bacteria affects the inflammatory system as well as the regulation and suppression of the immune system.

Lyme disease and PANDAS

Lyme disease presents with many symptoms and signs. In the early stages, the symptoms can be mild and present like a typical flu, but as the bacteria spreads through the body and affects organ systems, it can lead to a variety of other ailments. Much like PANDAS, Lyme disease has the ability to drive both psychological and physiological symptoms in people. Recent research has shown that, although PANDAS is driven by the streptococcus bacteria, Lyme disease can actually trigger the syndrome as well.

young child upset covering face
Image by Caleb Woods on Unsplash: PANDAS leads to severe psychological and physical symptoms in children.

It can be incredibly difficult to discern between the two conditions because of how they both present. The symptoms of Lyme and PANDAS can mimic one another, which makes diagnosing one or the other difficult. It’s vital to get a proper diagnosis of either Lyme disease or PANDAS in children because the treatment for both may vary significantly. When treatment is delayed for both Lyme disease and PANDAS, further health issues can occur. In some serious cases of Lyme disease, permanent health ailments can occur. In the case of PANDAS, permanent cognitive damage can also occur if the condition is not treated promptly.

Can Lyme cause strep throat?

Lyme disease cannot cause strep throat. This is because strep throat is caused by the same bacteria that causes PANDAS. Although Lyme disease can trigger PANDAS, the same cannot be said for strep throat. The connection between strep throat and Lyme disease is simply the autoimmune response that is triggered when a person becomes infected with bacteria that causes Lyme.

Both Lyme disease and PANDAS are serious conditions that require prompt treatment to help avoid prolonged symptoms and possible permanent health issues. The two are not one and the same, but Lyme disease can trigger PANDAS in children. It’s vital to ensure that when you and your family are out in wooded areas, you take all precautions to avoid getting bitten by an infected tick.

Featured image by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

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