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Diagnostic Tests

The information below is based on anecdotal evidence from approximately 70 PANDAS current (2008/2009) patient histories. Many of the children have immune systems that seem to have been chronically irritated since early childhood. Parents often indicate with their PANDAS child: chronic allergies, chronic hoarse coughs that sound “asthma-like” and inflamed sinuses.

About 1/4 of the 500 children here report chronic (more than once per year) strep infections prior to PANDAS onset. Many PANDAS case onsets are the result of a first or second strep infection only.

There is currently no medical study documenting the helpfulness of the below tests. But we believe these tests have been useful for doctors and parents in understanding the need to provide antibiotics or possible IVIG/Plasmaphoresus for the PANDAS child. It also rules out other autoimmune malfunctions that can be exacerbating the child.

PANDAS is currently a clinical diagnosis and open to interpretation and subjective observation. There are currently no conclusive diagnostic blood or neurological tests to be relied on. ONLY the SUDDEN DRAMATIC ONSET of Movement Issues (tics/Tourette’s-like/chorea) and Acute Dramatic Anxiety issues are the hallmarks of the PANDAS picture.

The 2012 NIMH revised criteria for PANDAS can be found here.

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Topics Discussed in this Section:

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Strep Testing

  • Strep throat rapid test and 48 hour culture
  • Streptozyme Test
  • ASO-titer and D-nase B titer

Ask the doctor/laboratory to give you a numeric result – not just positive or negative. Anything above the labs normal range should be quantified with a specific numerical value. An active strep infection can give you numbers in the 1,000′s or not.

In all literature regarding Rheumatic Fever, it is commonly known that strep has the ability to create “molecular mimicry” of the child’s own autoimmune response, therefore stopping the titer-rising process. Look at the ASO Titer Table where you will see most of the PANDAS cases at low to moderate titer increases. A good study expressing the dilemma regarding lack of raised titers and typical strep infection presentation is discussed in a recent study (2002) by Drs. Marie Lynd Murphy and Michael E. Pinichero. Quote:”A notable feature of the tonsillopharyngitis episodes was the lack of severity. Few children had fevers, and their sore throats were mild. The tonsillopharynx was moderately to intensely red, but exudate was scant or absent and cervical adenopathy was minimal. None of these children displayed the typical features of classical severe GABHS tonsillopharyngitis, although 1 patient had scarlet fever rash.

There was a latent period between GABHS.” Murphy & Pinichero (2002) Study.

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Immunological Workup

Several cases have been found to have had long-term, latent immunological weakness. Perhaps these viruses/bacteria have taxed the child’s immune system and then created a further weakness for PANDAS. Blood work-ups on the following are good to do to illustrate the immune system being taxed. Sometimes, with IgG deficiencies, IVIG can be covered by insurance though one must push the insurance company to do so.

  • Mycoplasma pneumanaie
  • Ebstein’s Barr Virus
  • Lyme Disease - Traditional Western Blot should be done for those in lyme regions of the world. Lyme testing and treatment is expensive. Some parents and doctors do an experimental/non-medically validated Igenex lyme test that shows antibodies that MAY be present. Approach Igenex testing with a doctor who looks at this from a comprehensive understanding of the immune system, PANDAS, and not focused only lyme as a the sole cause of illness. Lyme testing remarks
  • Herpes Simplex
  • Stapholococcus
  • Other Infections
  • CD4 (measures generally over-reactive immune response)
  • IgG – subclass 1, 2, 3,
  • IgA and IgM

For an explanation of possible deficiencies, please reference IgG Subclass Deficiency and Specific Antibody Deficiency .

MRI and EEG

  • MRI: It is very important to get a Pediatric Neurologist involved. There area few though rare cases of PANDAS that have involved chorea encephalopathy and other related issues. See the following:
  1. SWEDO/SNIDER 2003, Post-Streptococcal Autoimmune Disorders of the CNS.
  2. SWEDO, et al 2000, MRI Assessment of Children with OCD & Tics Associated with Strep.
  3. MABROUK/EAPEN 2008, Challenges in the Identification and Treatment of PANDAS: A Case Series.

This is not the norm but it is very important to check because brain inflammation can create serious longterm debilitation.

Some current cases have been shown to have small inflammatory issues, more like what is seen in a migrane, but it is worth noting AGAIN, because you are creating a clinical picture for the child. One child had inflamed Virchow Robin Spaces around the brain stem/basal ganglia area. In and of itself, not dangerous, but indicates possible neurological basal ganglia irritation.

There is no instrument that specifically shows inflammation of the basal ganglia. These are nerves. On one occasion in our group a SPECT SCAN (showing blood flow displacement) indicated basal ganglia inflammation.

MRI’s show the displacement of fluid in the brain, swelling. In severe cases a PET scan can be done, but it does have radiation issues that should be discussed with the doctor. MRI’s do not involve radiation, but magnetic resonance only.

  • EEG: A few children have been found to have irregular EEG’s. This could be PANDAS or some other frontal lobe seizure issue which can create separate psychological or physical issues. It is good to rule out this type of disorder particularly if your child is having rages or lapses in memory or other neurological dysfunctions.
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PANDAS/PANS Symptom Scale

The following scale is based on the clinical experience of Susan Swedo, M.D., Miroslav Kovacevic, M.D., Beth Latimer, M.D., and James Leckman, M.D., with the help of Diana Pohlman, Keith Moore and many other parents.

PEDIATRIC ACUTE NEUROPSYCHIATRIC SYMPTOM SCALE* Parent version

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OCD and TIC Disorder Scales

The following scales are what doctors use to measure the severity of OCD and TICs. Review these scales and show them to your doctor and communicate that your child went from normal levels (1-5) to abnormal (10 and above) overnight. OCD may present as severe anxiety. Do not assume your child does not fall into the realm of OCD because they do not show the “stereotypical symptoms” of OCD, such as hand obsessive washing and fear of germs.

OCD Scale and Tic Scale

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The Cunningham Panel of Tests

The Cunningham Panel of Tests determines the “likelihood of the patient’s condition being auto-immune in nature”, including possible PANDAS. This test is commercially available by Moleculera Labs.

Dr. Cunningham’s research, which led to this test, measured cross-reactive antibodies that are elevated in a PANDAS child’s brains. Many children got assistance with PANDAS treatment from Immunologists if the results of this blood test indicate PANDAS-like antibody levels.

In the following studies by Dr. Cunningham, et al., they show that movement disorders in Sydenham Chorea patients – a movement problem caused only by strep – and PANDAS children are similarly elevated. In both illnesses the basal ganglia are activated by a negative autoimmune reaction to strep.

This is important to show doctors so they understand that your child is not simply suffering from a psychological issue and may be having movement or mood issues due to strep antibody cross-reactivity from auto-antibodies (misbehaving antibodies along the basal ganglia nerves) called anti-lysoganglioside and anti-tublin.

Kirvan, et al (2003) Mimicry and Auto-antibody mediated neuronal Signaling Cells in Sydenham Chorea.

And, Kirvan, et al (2006) Antibody-mediated neuronal cell signaling in behavior and movement disorders.

PLEASE: See page 3 figure a. – showing elevation in PANDAS children at Acute Stages of Exacerbations.

For more information on Dr. Cunningham’s work, please view her 2011 video presentation “PANDAS and Autoimmunity”.

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A physician can obtain this test through the following websites:

To order The Cunningham Panel of Tests within the United States: MOLECULERA LABS

To order The Cunningham Panel Tests internationally : TESTING VIA WIESLAB