What is Morgellons disease?
Morgellons disease is a delusional disorder that leads to the belief that one has parasites or foreign material moving in, or coming out of, the skin. Morgellons disease is a little-known disorder that is often associated with
nonspecific skin, nerve, and psychiatric symptoms. Some refer to it as a fiber
disease. People with this disorder seem to be more likely to develop low
thyroid functioning (hypothyroidism). Caucasian females from about 35 to 50
years old tend to develop this uncommon condition more than other groups, and
Texas and California seem to have a higher incidence of this condition than other U.S. states.
What causes Morgellons disease? Is Morgellons disease contagious?
There are reports of Morgellons disease in patients with Lyme disease. Many health care professionals believe that Morgellons disease is a form of psychosis that causes the person to imagine that they are infested by parasites (delusional parasitosis) rather than a diagnosis based upon physical signs. Research on this syndrome has so far not found it to be caused by an infection. It is therefore not contagious. This condition has not been found to be the result of an environmental toxin.
What are Morgellons disease symptoms and signs?
People with Morgellons disease often complain of
- skin itching,
- feeling like there is something crawling under their skin.
They also often
report that they have what look like threads, hair, or fuzz coming out of lesions
on their skin. Some practitioners have observed the fibers
coming out of the skin of Morgellons disease sufferers, leaving what pictures
indicate are disfiguring lesions behind. For these reasons, Morgellons disease
is sometimes referred to as skin crawling disease. The individual with this
problem may feel that they have skin mites, springtails (collembola), or scabies
that cause the skin sensation. Other symptoms that are sometimes associated with
this condition include
Quick GuideWhat's Your Biggest Fear? Phobias
Morgellons Disease Symptom
Itch is an irritation in the skin that elicits an urge to scratch. Itches are a problem that everyone experiences, and the symptom can be localized (limited to one area of the body) or generalized (occurring all over the body or in several different areas). Sometimes, depending upon the underlying cause, itching may be worse at night. In medical terminology, itching is known as pruritus.
Generalized itch that occurs all over the body is often more difficult to treat than localized itch. Itches can also occur with or without skin lesions (bumps, blisters, rash, redness, or abnormalities that can be seen on the skin). An itch that is accompanied by a visible skin abnormality should be evaluated by a physician and, in some cases, by a dermatologist since the problem is likely to be a condition that requires specialized medical treatment (for example, eczema, scabies, etc.).
How do health care professionals diagnose Morgellons disease?
There is no established standard for the diagnosis of Morgellons disease. As
with people suffering from most medical complaints, health care professionals tend to
assess individuals for this condition by gathering historical information about
symptoms, as well as asking questions about medical and mental health symptoms.
They perform a physical examination and may order a variety of lab tests to
determine the appropriate diagnosis. To assess the specific skin complaints
associated with Morgellons disease, the medical professional might request a
What are treatment options for Morgellons disease?
While there is no specific cure for Morgellons disease, individuals who suffer from this condition have been found to benefit from medications that treat psychosis or tics, like olanzapine (Zyprexa, Zydis, Relprevv) or pimozide (Orap), respectively.
What is the prognosis for Morgellons disease?
Unfortunately, the prognosis for this disorder is
difficult because of the lack of clarity regarding its symptoms, diagnosis, and
Editor's addendum: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (Pearson, et al., 2012, reference below), "This condition is not currently recognized as a distinct clinical disorder with established diagnostic criteria that are generally accepted by the medical community and many dermatologists consider the condition to be synonymous with delusional parasitosis (DP). To date, most of what is known about the condition is based on isolated case reports or anecdotal accounts. A range of potential infectious (for example, Lyme disease, parasitic) and non-infectious causes has been postulated, but the etiology of this condition remains unknown and there have been no proven effective medical therapies."
Medically Reviewed on 1/12/2017
Medically reviewed by Marina Katz, MD; American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology
Dovigi, A.J. "Intraoral Morgellons disease or delusional parasitosis:
a first case report." The American Journal of Dermatopathology 32.6 (2010):
Hylwa, S.A., J.E. Bury, M.D.P. Davis, et al. "Delusional infestation, including
delusions of parasitosis: results of histologic examination of skin biopsy and
patient-provided skin specimens." Archives of Dermatology 147.9 (2011):
Koblenzer, C.S. "Pimozide at least as safe and perhaps more effective
than olanzapine for treatment of Morgellons disease." Archives of Dermatology 142.10 Oct.
Pearson, M.L., J.V. Selby, K.A. Katz, V. Cantrell, C.R. Braden, et
al. "Clinical, Epidemiologic, Histopathologic and Molecular Features of an
Unexplained Dermopathy." PLoS ONE 7.1 Jan. 2012: e29908.
Reid, E.E., and P.A. Lio. "Successful treatment of Morgellons Disease with pimozide therapy." Archives of Dermatology 146.10 Oct. 2010.
Savely, V.R., and R.B. Stricker. "Morgellons disease: analysis of a population
with clinically confirmed microscopic subcutaneous fibers of unknown etiology."
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