Is it Schizophrenia… or Something Else?
Delusions, hallucinations, distorted thinking—these are some of the frightening symptoms of schizophrenia, a condition that affects a person’s ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. Getting diagnosed with this chronic condition generally means you’re in for a never-ending battle, a lifetime of medication, and possible hospitalizations. It also puts you at greater risk of substance abuse, homelessness, and suicidal thoughts and behavior.
But what if that diagnosis was wrong? That’s what happened to Adrianna.
From Healthy to Hallucinations in Just 10 Days
Adrianna, age 16, was a healthy honor roll student when she went with her family on vacation to Yosemite National Park. When they arrived at their cabin, they were surrounded by 6 deer. It was a beautiful moment.
Just 10 days later, Adrianna became agitated and started having auditory hallucinations, one of the hallmark symptoms of schizophrenia. Her parents sought help for their daughter, who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and prescribed antipsychotic medications. But the pills didn’t help. The next three months were a torturous road of 25 doctors and multiple medications—all at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars. But nothing was working, and Adrianna had become a shadow of her former self.
A doctor at Stanford University told her mother, “Your daughter will be schizophrenic for the rest of her life and will need medication for as long as she lives.”
Looking for Another Path
Unwilling to accept that diagnosis and desperate for a different path forward for her daughter, her mother, Deb, learned how brain SPECT imaging could offer more information about what is happening inside the brain and how it could help diagnose and treat psychiatric patients more effectively. She was hoping it could shed some light on what was really happening to her daughter Adrianna, so she took her for a brain scan.
What Adrianna’s Brain Scan Revealed
Adrianna’s brain scan wasn’t consistent with the patterns typically seen in people with schizophrenia. Instead, it showed evidence of inflammation with areas of unusually high activity. This suggested there might be other potential causes of her symptoms, such as an infection or autoimmune system disorder.
After performing bloodwork and other lab testing, the results confirmed that Adrianna didn’t have schizophrenia. She had Lyme disease, an infection caused by deer ticks. A single tick bite during that trip to Yosemite is likely what triggered her symptoms.
Lyme disease can cause a host of symptoms that mimic those seen in a variety of mental health disorders, including hallucinations, disorganizations, memory problems, short attention span, impulsiveness, addictive behaviors, violence, and suicidal thoughts.
Treatment with antibiotics helped Adrianna get her life back. She subsequently graduated from Pepperdine University and then the Queen Mary University of London with a master’s degree in international human resource management. Now, she’s living a happy life.
Imagine if no one had ever tested her for Lyme disease. It’s quite possible she would still be living in a psychiatric hospital.
In an amazing twist of fate, Adrianna’s uncle had been committed to Napa State Hospital for 27 years for paranoid schizophrenia. It turned out he also had Lyme disease, which was only discovered after Adrianna’s mother had to fight the hospital administration to have him released so he could be tested. Treating Lyme for her brother did not get rid of his hallucinations, but on a small dose of an antipsychotic medication, he has been able to live with his family and is doing well as a free man.
The Link Between Lyme Disease and Schizophrenia
For more evidence about the connection between infectious diseases and psychiatric illness, look at the two maps below. In the top image, you’ll see the highest incidence of schizophrenia in the U.S., and in the bottom image, you’ll see the greatest risk for Lyme disease. It doesn’t take an expert cartographer to see that the maps are nearly identical.
The medical community needs to wake up to the link between chronic infections and mental health. In 2016,33 scientists from around the world wrote a joint editorial in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease suggesting the medical community was overlooking infectious diseases as a root cause of many memory problems and dementia.
In a “lifelong” psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia, it’s important to rule out infectious diseases and autoimmune disorders as causes of mental health symptoms. Your life depends on it.
At Amen Clinics, we have seen hundreds of patients, including Adrianna, with psychiatric symptoms or cognitive issues that weren’t responding to treatment who tested positive for Lyme disease. Many of them had been infected years or even decades previously, but nobody had ever thought to test them for infectious diseases. With the proper treatment, their symptoms improved significantly.
If you (or a loved one) are suffering from symptoms of schizophrenia or other mental health disorders and aren’t responding to treatment, it’s time to do additional testing to search for the root cause. For more information on how we can help, call us at 888-288-9834 or schedule a visit online.