Expert Sees Possible Link between Strep Throat and Anorexia Nervosa

Article excerpt

MONTREAL -- Streptococcal pharyngitis may be a very occasional trigger for anorexia nervosa and other neuropsychiatric conditions and should be investigated in patients with sudden onset of psychiatric symptoms, Mae S. Sokol, M.D., said at an international conference sponsored by the Academy for Eating Disorders.

Identification of this cause of anorexia nervosa would not change treatment of the condition (although this possibility is being investigated), but it would alert patients and physicians to the need for more aggressive prevention and treatment of future strep infections, said Dr. Sokol of Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.

She said group A beta hemolytic streptococci (GABHS) have been linked with several illnesses known collectively as PANDAS (pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcus). The PANDAS classification also includes obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and tic disorders such as Tourette's syndrome.

It is well recognized that rheumatic fever and Sydenham's chorea are streptococcus-triggered autoimmune attacks on cardiac cells and cerebral neurons, respectively. It also is believed that PANDAS might be caused by similar attacks on basal ganglia cells, noted Dr. Sokol, who is also director of the eating disorders program at Children's Hospital in Omaha.

"We hypothesize that the immune system may look at the basal ganglia cells in the brain and mistakenly attack those cells, which may cause patients to have abnormal thoughts about food and weight," she said in an interview at the conference.

Why this damage to basal ganglia cells manifests sometimes as anorexia and other times as OCD, Tourette's, or infantile autism is not known, she said.

"Since the basal ganglia are also involved with emotion, we think this area of the brain may be affected slightly differently with each condition. Another theory is that maybe we are seeing the same thing in children with PANDAS anorexia and children with PANDAS OCD--only in the PANDAS anorexia, the obsessions are about food and weight, whereas in PANDAS OCD they are about other things. …