PANDAS: Your Brain on Fire

PANDAS: Your Brain on Fire

PANDAS: Your Brain on Fire

We’re talking PANDAS this week–a disorder that most people may not have heard of. It stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections, and while the true lifetime prevalence of the disorder is unknown, it affects around 1 in 200 children in the U.S.

PANDAS Symptoms

PANDAS is characterized by a sudden onset of symptoms seen in obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or motor/vocal tic disorders, particularly following a strep infection. The true distinguishable features between PANDAS and other disorders with overlapping symptoms, such as autism, is the notable and sudden out-of-the-blue onset. Symptoms like obsessions, compulsions, drastic changes in mood, hyperactivity, severe and sudden separation anxiety are among these.

PANDAS Can Hide In Autism

It’s not to say that PANDAS occurs more in those with autism, but rather, PANDAS might be able to disguise itself better in the symptoms of a child with autism. The same goes for OCD, which PANDAS could also be mistaken for, as it is also a highly common occurrence alongside autism.

For individuals with children who have autism, pay close attention to daily patterns and behaviors. This is crucial in distinguishing regularly occurring symptoms in autism from sudden changes or worsening of certain behaviors.

What causes PANDAS?  

The other distinguishing factor of PANDAS is the strep bacteria, which survives in the body by evading detection for a long period of time. For as long as possible, in fact, the bacteria puts molecules on its cell wall that look identical to those regularly found on the heart, joints, and other tissues, allowing itself to be unrecognizable.

The problem arises when the body finally does see the bacteria as foreign and fights back with antibodies. Due to the molecule “mimicry,” the immune system not only reacts to the strep bacteria, but also to the originally mimicked molecules housed in the child’s own tissues. Thus, some cross-reactive “anti-brain” antibodies end up targeting the brain, which onsets the symptoms of OCD, tics, and other disorders like PANDAS.

Hence, the brain on fire.

PANDAS at Cerebrum

Noah Wirth traveled to Cerebrum from Australia to undergo brain rehabilitation for Autism Spectrum Disorder and confirm / manage PANDAS. Watch his story here! 

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of PANDAS, contact Cerebrum Health Centers to see if we can help! (214) 771-8885 or

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash