Mystery Brain Disease Strikes Women in US

Doctors initially thought it was psychosis

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Feb 9, 2013 1:49 PM CST

(Newser) – Doctors have been wrestling with a newly discovered illness that attacks mainly young women and looks a lot like psychosis. In Philadelphia, hospitalized women appeared possessed, crying or laughing hysterically one moment and turning catatonic the next. One had seizures and left her arms stuck out in front of her. Finally doctors realized they weren't crazy—they were suffering from an auto immune disease known as Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis, reports CBS Philadelphia.

Discovered six years ago, the illness strikes the brain with antibodies and causes it to swell—as one doctor explained to two nervous parents: "He told them her brain is on fire," says a woman who was hospitalized for weeks. "He used those words: 'Her brain is on fire.'" A spinal fluid test can spot the disease and immunotherapy can treat it, but there is no cure; all patients face possible relapses. Now a former patient is trying to get the word out, explaining that "there could be people in comas right now or people stuck in psych wards that have this disease and aren’t being treated properly."

A woman restrained in a hospital.   (Shutterstock)
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