Do you have a PANDA? If you think that I mean a furry black and white bear from China, there is a good chance you don’t. What I am talking about is a kid who seemed to lose her darn mind after she got sick.
PANDAS is a cute name for a serious condition
PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infection. It is a cute name for a VERY serious condition.
What happens in PANDAS is the body attacks its own nervous system as a reaction to a strep infection. I will explain a bit more about how that happens in a minute. What matters most to moms, dads, siblings, teachers, and anyone who cares for or loves a PANDA is the behaviors that it causes.
Almost overnight serious changes happened
What I hear from moms is that almost overnight their sweet kiddos turned into a something unrecognizable to them. They are anxious and won’t sleep alone. They are engaging in repetitive rituals that make no sense.
They are set off into a rage at the drop of the hat. They are impulsive, unpredictable, and sometimes scary. Their brain says mean things to them, sometimes telling them that they want to hurt people, even their mommy. And when they act on it, they feel bad afterwards because they didn’t want to do it but their brain made them.
They are also sad. Sometimes they are so sad that they say things about wanting to die. Or they will actually harm themselves, usually by striking themselves in the head.
They also get physical symptoms, like tics or weird movements that they can’t control. Their eyes often get very dilated, sometimes so much that it looks like there is nothing but a pupil.
It. Is. Heartbreaking.
As a doctor who works with TONS of these kids, I see how impactful it is on everyone around. You are not alone, moms of PANDAS.
What is strep doing to my kid?
The current understanding of what occurs for these kids is that their body has an autoimmune response to strep infections. What this means is that the body turns on itself in an effort to fight off the infection. We have know that this occurs with strep for years – it can cause damage to both the heart and the kidneys in the same way. In fact, this is why we recommend that anyone who has a positive diagnosis of strep throat begin antibiotics within 4 days of onset – to prevent the autoimmune attack on the body.
But with PANDAS, the attack is on the nervous system.
What causes the attack?
Bacteria can be super sneaky. They have this remarkable mechanism to help them evade our immune system called molecular mimicry. What this means is that the bacteria have figured out a way to make themselves look like our own cells.
All of our cells have proteins on their surface that help inform our immune system that we are “self” and should be left alone. These tricky strep bacteria put on a costume that looks pretty similar to our own “self” identifying cells. It is like bacterial Halloween. But just like Halloween where even with the best costume you can pretty quickly tell that the kid in front of you is not an actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or Elsa from Frozen, our immune system can tell that these bacteria aren’t really “self.” Unfortunately, our immune system is so protective of us that it goes on hyperdrive and starts to attack anything that might be a ninja turtle or ice princess, not just the clear imposters.
This means, the strep who are hiding out near the cells of our nervous system try to look like nervous system cells. And that means they end up helping our body attack our own nervous system.
And this leads to all the behavioral and neurological symptoms we see.
Hope for PANDAS?
Not every kid who gets strep throat will get PANDAS – only those who are susceptible to it. Some kids will get symptoms of PANDAS, but most won’t. That is because most people aren’t susceptible to it.
Similarly, some kids will see that the symptoms they get will go away with antibiotic treatment, but many won’t. Maybe treatment will seem miraculous the first time, but with every exposure to a bacterial or viral infection, the symptoms come back, even if there is no evidence of strep throat. These kids are the most susceptible.
To have any long term resolution, we need to treat that susceptibility.
To avoid the use of psychiatric medications, we need to treat that susceptibility.
There is only one type of medicine that does this: Homeopathy.
I won’t belabor how homeopathy works here. That’s not the point of this blog. If you do want to learn more, click here.
Instead, I want to leave with a glimmer of hope. Or in many cases, a huge ray of sunshine. Yes, PANDAS kids suffer. So do their families. And yes, many treatments offered are burdensome and can have long term impacts on the gut microbiome, which ironically also has impacts on mood and behavior long run. But with homeopathy, we can actually see these kids heal.
It takes time, but eventually we see them have normal reactions to strep. They get a fever. They get cranky. They get a sore throat. And then it passes.
We see them surrounded by kids who are sick, but bolstered with homeopathic treatment, their immune system is armed and ready to handle any invader without harming itself.
It is remarkable.
And it is possible.
Call or email us if you have questions. We love to answer them.
Ready to get your kiddo back?
Dr. Jennifer Bahr
Founder of Resilience Naturopathic