Autoimmune OCD and my daughter shops my closet

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-021-01700-4

The article is a proposal for diagnostic criteria for autoimmune obsessive compulsive disorder, a relatively rare version of OCD. Important because the treatment has to include searching for infection that triggers the antibody response, which in turn attacks the brain. Antibiotics to treat a “psychiatric” disorder. Mind and body connection, right?

The ironic thing about this new proposed diagnosis is that I do not have obivious OCD in any way, shape or form. It is masked by packrat. Also, my OCD is focused. When I was working, it was focused on patients. My clinic charts were thorough, 100% of the time. I was brutally thorough and wouldn’t skip anything. The result was that I got a reputation for being an amazing diagnostician. Usually it was because I wanted ALL the puzzle pieces and the ones that don’t fit are the ones that interested me. They have to all fit. Either the patient is lying or the diagnosis is not as simple as it appears. Occam’s Razor be damned, people can have more than one illness.

In fact, an article 20 years ago looked at average patient panels and said that the average primary care patient has 4-5 chronic illnesses. Hypertension, diabetes, emphysema, tobacco overuse disorder, alcohol overuse disorder, well, yeah. And then the complex ones had 9 or more complex illnesses. You can’t see the person for one thing, because if the diabetic has a toe infection, you’d better look at their kidney function because the antibiotic dose can kill their kidneys if you don’t adjust it. So do not tell me to see the patient for one thing. Malpractice on the hoof. Completely crazy and evil that administrators tell doctors to do that.

No one looking at my house would ever think I have any OCD. I am not a hoarder (ok, books) but the packrat force is strong in me. My daughter did not inherit that gene. She is a minimalist. However, she has come to appreciate the packrat a little.

This summer she said that her purse is wearing out. As a minimalist she has one purse. I ask, “Would you like to see if I have one that you like?” It so happens that as I was trying to recover from pneumonia, a local garage sale had 20+ year old designer purses for $3 each, because the house was going on the market. Got to get rid of the stuff.

“Yes, please.” says my daughter.

I start with the weird ones that I know she will not want. I get eye rolls. But I am progressing towards the purses that are close to the one she has. At last I produce a small leather purse, the right size, in good shape, and she sits up. “Let me see that one.” Like Eeyore with his popped balloon, putting it in a jar and taking it out, she tries putting her phone and wallet in the purse and taking it out. “Yes, I like this!” She calls it “Shopping mom’s closet.” I think it is delightfully comic. The benefits of a packrat mother.

Back to the Nature article and OCD. The diagnostic criteria are gaining steam. Having watched a conference this summer about Pandas and Pans, mine is mild. Some young people have a version where killer T cells invade the brain and kill neurons. I had a moment of panic when the conference was discussing a case, but then I thought, if I had the neuron killing kind I would be dead or demented by now.

Instead, I’m just a little neurologically unusual.

behavioral health, cancer, and the immune system

There are more and more articles about immune causes of “behavioral health” diagnoses.

The latest I’ve read is about schizophrenia:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-63776-0

Auto-antibodies are antibodies that we make against something else that then attack a part of ourselves. The most well know version of an auto-antibody is Rheumatic Fever, where an antibody to streptococcus A attacks the joints or skin or heart. I had a patient in Colorado who needed a new heart valve at age 10 or 11 because of Rheumatic Fever.

I have written a lot about PANDAS and PANS (respectively Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Strep A and Pediatric Acute Neuropsychiatric Syndrome) because an older psychiatrist was suspicious that I have PANS. I have had pneumonia four times and it is accompanied by anxiety and fear, part of which turns out to be hypoxia and tachycardia. I think a heart rate of 135 makes just about ANYONE feel anxious. It feels awful.

But what about other Behavioral Health Diagnoses? Remember, we are on the DSM V, the fifth manual of psychiatric diagnoses. We have not had markers or a clear cause. That is, we are aware that serotonin is low in the intracellular spaces in the brain with depression but we don’t know what the mechanism is, what the cause is and what exactly is happening in the neuron or brain cells. A paper on a particular rat neuron said that there were 300 different types of serotonin receptors on that neuron. Blocking one type caused rats to act in an obsessive compulsive manner. But there are 299 others and then combinations. Whew, there is a lot to be learned about the brain.

Fibromyalgia can be caused by autoantibodies, at least some of the cases: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210701120703.htm

Chronic fatigue: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34441971/

Lupus and fibromyalgia overlap: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9207710/

Autoimmune disorders are more common in women. We think this is because of pregnancy. The woman’s immune system has to tolerate a pregnancy where half the genetic material is from the father. Yet the immune system also has to recognize “not me, infection” and be able to distinguish that from the pregnancy. This is tricky. The most common autoimmune disorder currently is believed to be Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, where there are self antibodies to the thyroid. Post covid could potentially beat this out.

Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia have been orphan diseases in that we do not have an inflammation marker that defines them. The ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and CRP (um) are usually normal. These are often elevated in rheumatological disorders. Not having a marker doesn’t mean that the muscles are not painful and doesn’t mean that the fatigue is not real.

I am hopeful that we are on the cusp of a true revolution in medicine, with more understanding of the immune system and behavioral health disorders, as well as post covid, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I worked at the National Cancer Institute in the 1980s before medical school, with Steve Rosenberg, MD. He was trying to get the immune system to fight cancer.

Now there has been a cancer treatment with 100% success: an immune treatment for people with rectal cancer with a particular immune profile. This is AMAZING! https://www.zmescience.com/science/experimental-trial-cancer-complete-remission-02725735/

Only 18 patients, but 100% success! No surgery.

The patch for the National Cancer Institute shows a man fighting a crab: Cancer, the crab. Dr. Rosenberg talked about Sysiphus, who was rolling a stone up a mountain eternally while it rolled back on him. From here: Later legend related that when Death came to fetch him, Sisyphus chained Death up so that no one died. Finally, Ares came to aid Death, and Sisyphus had to submit. In the meantime, Sisyphus had told his wife, Merope, not to perform the usual sacrifices and to leave his body unburied. Thus, when he reached the underworld, he was permitted to return to punish her for the omission. Once back at home, Sisyphus continued to live to a ripe old age before dying a second time.

Maybe the stone has reached a resting place. Blessings and peace you. Please peace me.

Covid-19: Approach to Long Haul

Covid-19: Approach to Long Haul

This is written primarily for physicians, but is for anyone to read. This is a working theory.

I am very interested in Long Haul because I was diagnosed with PANS by an older psychiatrist who worked exclusively with physicians in 2012. That was during my third flare. The evidence is mounting that Long Haul is an autoimmune disorder like PANS. I am sharing my approach to Long Haul based on both my clinic and personal experience.

Step 1. Validate the patient. Patients are terrified, understandably, to have something “like” chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, or are worrying that they are “crazy”. Evidence is appearing that Long Haul, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are all complex autoimmune disorders with multiple antibodies. We do not yet have vast antibody tests. So the first step is to say that we believe patients and also that we can help. This is a very new and evolving field. I tell patients that it will change fast over the next few years. What I tell them today may change within a year as we get new information. If this makes them anxious, remind them of the Women’s Health Initiative and how that changed hormone therapy, and that cancer treatments keep improving.

Step 2. Lower stress and antibody levels. When we are high stress, cortisol and adrenaline go up and impair the immune system. The immune system is fired up and looking for something to do. Bacteria like strep A have evolved with us and have surface proteins that “look like us”. Our bodies make antibodies to the Strep A or Covid-19 and sometimes those antibodies attack us too, because our own proteins look the same. One way of lowering the antibody level is sweating. Hot bath or shower, sauna, hot tub, exercise. Support these and explain. A second way to lower the antibody level is to quiet the sympathetic nervous system and activate the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic is the quiet, relaxed and laughing one. Where does the patient feel safe, relaxed, quiet? After my father died, leaving a complicated and messy estate with an out of date will, I did a Sudoku daily for a year. I realized that the Sudoku relaxed me because I could not solve the estate quickly, but I could nearly always solve the Sudoku. Stupid cat videos, rocking chairs, knitting, gentle walk in the neighborhood if it feels safe, a walk in a mall (without one’s purse if overspending is an issue) — how does this particular person relax? Teach the slow breathing: in for a slow count of five and out for a slow count of five. Or square breathing: in for five, hold five, out five, in five. Twenty minutes of slow breathing supposedly moves almost everyone from sympathetic to parasympathetic. It may take practice and feel unfamiliar: I have had a veteran say that it felt very very weird to relax and he was not used to it. He kept at it.

Step 3. Symptom picture. At present I am basing this on my own experience with PANS. This is my working theory. Antibodies can block receptors or “turn the key” and activate receptors. Buprenorphine does BOTH (though it is not an antibody): at lower levels it turns the key and at higher levels it blocks. I would ask specifically about five fields. You many well be able to come up with more.

a. Brain function. In my PANS, I have antibodies to dopamine that turn dopamine on very high. Other physicians assume that I am manic. I am not quite manic, but it certainly feels awful. I feel like I have been shot out of a cannon when I wake up, with the morning cortisol rise. For me, the caffeine in coffee calms me, and my assumption is that it displaces the anti-dopamine antibodies. Tea does not work. I quit coffee for seven years until the latest flare. Albuterol doesn’t work. Terbutaline does work. I don’t know about theophylline or adderall, I have not tried them. If someone has “brain fog”, I assume that they have blocker antibodies OR be sure to ask if they were different in the first 4-6 months of the illness. For me, the antibodies rise for about 2-3 months and then take 2-3 months to drop. I have a lot of fatigue when they finally leave and this time I could tell the day that the last antibodies “fell off” or dropped to my “normal” level.
For blocked people, does caffeine help? How about albuterol? Adderall, theophylline, SSRIs. Every person will have different antibodies. Treatment needs to be tailored.

b. Muscle function. My anti-tubulin antibody (I have PANS, remember?) shuts down my “fast twitch” but not my “slow twitch” muscles. Tubulin is what makes the lung cilia function, so presumably mine are paralyzed during a flare and that is why I get pneumonia. I am tachycardic, resting heart rate 100 and walking slowly or talking heart rate 135, so I get very short of breath. Both the lung dysfunction and antibodies that upregulate my dopamine receptors make me tachycardic. I think that the people who can barely get out of bed with chronic fatigue have both fast and slow twitch muscles blocked. They need validation and lower stress. With support, perhaps the antibody level can be lowered enough that they can function again. I also found that my muscles hurt when my blood sugar was up and that if I keep it low, I have minimal muscle pain. I do not know if this is true for other people.

c. Gut function. In PANS, there appears to be an antibody to lysoganglioside. I don’t understand it but when I am sick, I cut carbohydrates way back or I am horribly ill. I tolerate lactose but not fructose, sucrose or gluten. One year after getting my last flare, I can eat everything except gluten. With this round I figured out that rising blood sugar when I am sick makes me acidic. This in turn worsens lung function more, as my body automatically slows my breathing to balance the acidity. I found that taking bicarb before a meal helped tremendously. In the worst/highest antibody part of the flare, I eat fats, because anything else makes me ill. SO: what can the patient eat or not eat and support them. Food intolerances are on the rise. Ask if there are foods that they cannot eat and support them not eating them. They can go to a very restricted diet that works for them and wait three weeks. After three weeks, food antibody levels are supposed to drop. They can start adding foods back in, one every three days. I do not know if this will work in a bad flare, the antibodies may be too high.

d. Lungs: do a resting heart rate and oxygen saturation. Do a walking heart rate and sat. Then do a LOADED heart rate and sat, with the person carrying the equivalent of two bags of groceries or their toddler. If they are young, they may hold their sats, but if their heart rate jumps to 135, that is like running a continuous marathon. Try oxygen and see if the heart rate comes down. Sleep apnea testing is also highly recommended. If they are tachycardic with daily activities, of course they have fatigue! Rest. Patients can learn to check a pulse or have a pulse ox, but fingers and second hand are cheap.

d. Other. I am reading that the main complaints in Long Haul are fatigue, brain issues, tachycardia and shortness of breath. What else really bothers the person? Sound sensitivity, loss of the sense of smell. The first step in helping with this is to listen and validate.

Covid-19: long haul II

A few days ago my primary care doctor texts that she wonders if I have the autoimmune form of fibromyalgia.

Red alert. I have not heard about this.

I did a search last night and find this: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/07/210701120703.htm.

Now, if you have been paying attention, you know that I was diagnosed with PANDAS in 2012, though Isuspect that it is really PANS. Both are autoimmune disorders. I also think that long haul covid is the same thing or something similar.

Meanwhile, they are now saying Covid-19 Long Haul may ALSO be an autoimmune disorder. Multiple sites below.

There is a paper in Nature that I don’t have access to, annoyingly enough. The fibromyalgia story in the above story is that they have spun antibodies down from human serum of affected and unaffected people and then injected them into mice. The mice get fibromyalgia symptoms from the affected antibodies but not from the unaffected ones. The symptoms in the mice go away when the antibodies fade out, in a few weeks. Aha.

The long haul story says that death from Covid-19 may be an autoimmune response, the antibodies going really nuts and making people bleed or their lungs close down. That is, swell shut. They have been drawing blood to study at different stages of Covid-19 and also checking autopsy patients. Usually autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in women then men but Covid-19 seems to be worse in men. This: “The mechanisms behind the production of such autoantibodies aren’t yet clear. Widespread and long-term inflammation during severe COVID-19 may cause the immune system to produce antibodies to pieces of the virus it wouldn’t normally recognize. Some of those pieces might resemble human proteins enough to trigger the production of autoantibodies.

Excessive inflammation could also boost production of autoantibodies that had previously only existed in the body at very low levels. Vaccination against COVID-19 is much less inflammatory than infection with the virus. In a separate study that looked at COVID vaccination, none of the healthy volunteers developed autoantibodies.” (2)(*)

Here is another fibromyalgia paper: https://www.verywellhealth.com/autoimmunity-neuroinflammation-in-fibromyalgia-5197944. That paper lists the autoantibodies that they are finding in fibromyalgia including gangliosides. The fourth antibody in PANDAS/PANS is anti-lysoganglioside. Aha! So this is sparking a serious revolution in medicine: it is looking like many of the mysterious and difficult to describe and quantify diseases may be autoantibody disorders. The anti-ganglioside antibodies were found in 71% of fibromyalgia patients. There are seven antibodies listed, including one to serotonin. In PANS, they are blaming two anti-dopamine antibodies. None of the fibromyalgia patients had ALL seven, but all of them had some of them. A different pattern in every patient, because we all make different antibodies. Fascinating.

One more: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28339361/. People with lupus are more likely to have fibromyalgia and visa versa. “Increasing evidence indicates that N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors (NMDARs) play a major role in the induction and maintenance of central sensitisation with chronic pain. In this study, we evaluated the role of anti-NMDAR antibodies in the development of FM in patients with SLE.” Lupus and fibromyalgia share an autoantibody. Holy cats. NMDA is ALSO a neurotransmitter. Makes me wonder quite a bit about “psychiatric” disorders.

Remember that we make up all the words. So the autoimmune diseases are usually found by testing for a few antibodies. In the most common autoimmune disorder, hypothyroidism, we usually check the TSH and T4 level, so patient hormone levels rather than antibody levels. Over the last 30 years, we are able to test for more antibodies. Systemic lupus erythematosis, celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. When I was in medical school in 1989, the rheumatology book was an inch and a half thick and there were loads of different patterns of disease. I am sure it is twice as thick now. Our initial test for autoimmune disease is for inflammation: an antinuclear antibody and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate. Some people have rheumatoid arthritis but their RF is negative: they have “sero-negative” rheumatiod arthritis, which is more likely “a different autoantibody that we have not tracked down” rheumatoid arthritis. In chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia, the antinuclear antibody and erythrocyte sedimentation rate are usually normal. I suspect both disorders of being “post” inflammation.

My prediction is a serious medical revolution, where we start regularly testing for autoantibodies. Whether that will be something like a pregnancy test but with hundreds of autoantibodies tested for, or whether there are some key indicator ones that we can find, is not clear. At any rate, trauma, stress and infection all increase the likelihood of getting one of these disorders and we have to figure out how to lower the load of all three.

Do you think people are instinctively quitting their jobs?

I had a phone visit with my pulmonologist yesterday. She was running about 35 minutes late, I sat on Zoom until she showed up. She looks exhausted. “We have less doctors and more patients.” she says. “I was on call for the critical care unit last week and I am on call Monday and Tuesday.” “Please take care of yourself,” I say, “We really need you.” She is smiling the whole time. She is worried about me dropping weight and I am worried about her.

Prayers and blessings all around.


1. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/covid-19-can-trigger-self-attacking-antibodies/
2. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/autoimmune-response-found-many-covid-19
1. https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/covid-19-can-trigger-self-attacking-antibodies/
2. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/autoimmune-response-found-many-covid-19
3. https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/591528-long-covid-study-author-explains-four-factors-that-can-predict-how-you-get
4. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/studies-identify-risk-factors-for-long-covid-69648
5. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-10436473/Is-people-sicker-Covid-19.html
*If that paragraph does not make people get the vaccine, they are living completely in a mad dream world, IMHO.
6. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/misdirected-antibodies-linked-severe-covid-19

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: flickering. As in flickering hope.

Armour Suit II

Yesterday I had the massage that I have once every two weeks.

We talk first about muscles and illness and emotions. He is thinking that if we forget how to use certain muscles and put them in the “armor suit” then that is where our body will store toxins. After all, we aren’t using those muscles. Good storage place. And then that in turn is where illness or cancer could pop up.

I am talking about emotions: that the US culture seems to see certain emotions as “negative”. Anger, fear, grief. I asked my son what he thinks emotion is. His reply: “Chemicals?” I think emotions are neurological information. Information just as much as what our eyes see, our ears hear. If we label some emotions as “bad”, how can a child protect herself from a predator, from abuse, from a charming addict? If girls are supposed to be “nice” all the time, they have to suppress any “bad” emotions. Why would we suppress neurological information? And both my massage person and I think that stuffed emotions go into the armor suit. So toxins from the outside and toxins from the inside…. no wonder we get sick.

In the massage I am paying attention to each muscle, asking them to relax, rather then focusing on my breathing. I am also thinking that I am not sure my back is broad enough to carry what I want to carry, between work and family. I am asking the Beloved about that, sort of…. and then I have the sensation that my back is very broad. Enormous. Very very strong. I have small hips and an enormously strong back. I am 5’4″ and 130 pounds. Yet in this sensate dream, my back is as wide and strong as my friend who is 6’4″ and 220 pounds.

It’s not momentary. It goes on for thirty minutes or more. My latissimus dorsi are tight and sore, punching muscles. We talk about how we would both like to see grade school children taught to activate the slow twitch muscles, to loosen and drop the armor suit. Most of the physical education and sports are fast twitch. “Not synchronized swimming,” I say. The first formal move they are taught is to float on their back, legs straight. Hands controlling position. They slowly bend one knee and then straighten that leg up, and equally slowly lower and straighten it. This is called the ballet leg. My daughter started synchro at age 7 and had to do that at the meet. They were scored on the Olympic scoring from the start: the beginners scored in the 3 range.

“No,” he says, “synchronized swimming must use slow twitch. But that and Tai Chi are the only ones I can think of, and maybe some dance.” He says that I need to learn to release that energy: the wanting to punch, wanting to kick, instead of storing it in my muscles…. I have a heavy bag. I will make time.

I am silent, exploring the map of my back, strong and broad enough to carry much more than I thought….

This is our synchronized swimming team at our small local pool, doing the yearly show, in 2010. The five girls are in a routine and just starting a ballet leg in time to the music….