Friday Factoids Catch-Up: Controversial Illnesses–Morgellons Disease

 

Morgellons Disease is a controversial and poorly understood condition in which unusual thread-like fibers appear under the skin. The patient may feel like something is crawling, biting, or stinging all over. Some medical experts say Morgellons is a physical illness, while others suggest it is a type of psychosis called “delusional parasitosis,” in which a person thinks parasites have infected their skin. Patients with delusional parasitosis often present pieces of clothing lint, skin, or other debris and place them in plastic wrap, on adhesive tape, or in matchboxes. They typically state that these contain the parasites; however, these collections have no insects or parasites.

 

Symptoms that are typically associated with Morgellons are unpleasant skin sensations, feeling like bugs are crawling all over the skin, burning or stinging sensations under the skin, intense itching, skin sores that appear suddenly and heal slowly, sores that leave very red scars, and reports thread-like fibers stuck in the skin. People with Morgellons sometimes complain of other symptoms which may include extreme fatigue, hair loss, joint and muscle pain, nervous system problems, tooth loss, sleep problems, and short-term memory loss. Doctors often tell patients that this is an “unexplained dermopathy,” which means a skin condition that occurs without a known reason. Other medical professionals have called the condition a “fiber disease.”

 

In the past, few doctors had heard of Morgellons. But in response to scattered reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worked together with several other health care agencies to investigate this condition. Most reports come from California, Texas, and Florida, although patients have been seen in all 50 states. A CDC study found that Morgellons is most likely to affect middle-aged white women. Oddly enough, delusions of parasitosis also occur primarily in white middle-aged or older women.

 

The question of whether Morgellons is a disease or a delusion has prompted debate and new research in recent years. The CDC states that the condition is not caused by an infection or anything in the environment. The CDC study also included a lab analysis of skin fibers in Morgellons patients. The analysis showed that these fibers were mostly cotton, such as typically found in clothing or bandages. From a 2012 study, neuropsychological testing revealed a substantial number of study participants who scored highly in screening tests for one or more co-existing psychiatric or addictive conditions, including depression, somatic concerns, and drug use.

 

Others researchers say that Morgellons results from an infectious process in the skin cells. Research also revealed that the skin sores seemed to be the result of long-term picking and scratching the skin. Previous case studies have suggested that Morgellons may be linked to Lyme disease. Some patients with signs and symptoms of Morgellons had tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. But according to Morgellons researchers at Oklahoma State University, there is no evidence to prove this theory. Likewise, there was no evidence of Lyme infection in any of the people in the CDC study. A 2010 study found a potential link between Morgellons symptoms and hypothyroidism. More research needs to be done to further investigate the findings.

 

There is no known cure for Morgellons. Treating any medical or psychiatric problems that occur at the same time as Morgellons may help ease symptoms in some patients. Medical researchers usually recommend that patients with these symptoms should undergo psychiatric evaluation. Some people who suspect they have Morgellons disease claim they have been ignored or dismissed as fakers. It is not uncommon for people who report signs and symptoms of Morgellons disease to resist other explanations for their condition,

 

References:
Ballatyne, C. (2009). “What is Morgellons Disease? Is it a physical or psychological condition?” Scientific American.  Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/morgellons-disease-parasites-skin-psychiatric/

 

Pearson, M.L., Selby, J.V., Kenneth, K.A., Cantrell, V., Braden, C.R., Parise, M.E.,…Lewis, B. (2012). Clinical, Epidemiologic, Histopathologic and Molecular Features of an Unexplained Dermopathy. Plos One. Retrieved at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0029908
The Morgellon Research Foundation. (n.d.)What is Morgellons Disease? Retrieved from http://www.morgellons-research.com

 

Jonathan Torres
WKPIC Pre-doctoral Intern

 

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