PANS and PANDAS in Pediatric Diagnostics


PANS is a relatively new term used to describe acute-onset OCD cases. PANS stands for Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome and includes all cases of abrupt onset OCD, not just those associated with streptococcal infections. PANDAS, is an abbreviation for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections.

PANS & PANDAS is used to describe the group of children and adolescents who have sudden onset of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and/or tic disorders, and in whom symptoms worsen following conditions such as streptococcal infection (Strep throat & Scarlet Fever), influenza, chickenpox, Lyme disease, and mycoplasma (which causes so-called walking pneumonia). The illness can become a psychiatric emergency within 48 hours, and should be treated by a Pediatrician (or other primary care physician) along with a Psychiatrist.

Currently, the illness is conceptualized as an example of mis-directed immune attack, and might occur because of a kind of similarity between antigens on the viral or bacterial agent and childs own cells – so the body begins to attack itself.

Both PANS and PANDAS are clinical diagnoses. They are made by a physician after clinical evaluation. The history must reveal an abrupt onset of OCD and/or tics (or sudden, dramatic worsening if the child had pre-existing OCD or tics). Laboratory testing will not confirm or negate the diagnosis. Testing can suggest different routes of acute and/or long-term treatment – relevant tests include anti-streptococcal antibody titers, anti-nuclear antibody titers, and a test of immune reactivity, such as an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or C-reactive protein.

The primary care physician will likely prescribe antibiotics, nutritional support, and perhaps steroids. Sometimes, IVIG (immunoglobulins administered by IV) or plasmapheresis (a way of purifying blood and then replacing it into the patient). Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is occasionally useful to restore physiologic resilience and aid in stabilizing immune dysfunction. Psychiatric care will likely include traditional anti-OCD interventions such as medication.