What Is Morgellons Disease?

  • Medical Author:
    Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD

    Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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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.

Morgellons disease symptoms and signs

People with Morgellons disease often complain of

  • skin itching,
  • burning,
  • 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

Morgellons disease causes

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.

Morgellons disease diagnosis

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 skin biopsy.

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Morgellons disease treatment

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.

Morgellons disease prognosis

Unfortunately, the prognosis for this disorder is difficult because of the lack of clarity regarding its symptoms, diagnosis, and potential causes.

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 by Marina Katz, MD; American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology

REFERENCES:

Dovigi, A.J. "Intraoral Morgellons disease or delusional parasitosis: a first case report." The American Journal of Dermatopathology 32.6 (2010): 603-605.

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): 1041-1045.

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. 2006.

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. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0029908.

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." Clinical Cosmetic Investigative Dermatology 3 (2010): 67-78.


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Reviewed on 1/12/2017

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