Morgellons disease: Managing a mysterious skin condition
Morgellons disease is an uncommon, unexplained skin disorder characterized by sores, crawling sensations on and under the skin, and fiber-like filaments emerging from the sores. It's not certain what these strings are. Some say they are wisps of cotton thread, probably coming from clothing or bandages. Others say they result from an infectious process in the skin cells. Further study is needed.
Signs and symptoms
People who have Morgellons disease report the following signs and symptoms:
- Skin rashes or sores that can cause intense itching
- Crawling sensations on and under the skin, often compared to insects moving, stinging or biting
- Fibers, threads or black stringy material in and on the skin
- Severe fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Short-term memory loss
The intense itching and open sores associated with Morgellons disease can severely interfere with a person's quality of life.
Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control note that the signs and symptoms of Morgellons disease are very similar to those of a mental illness involving false beliefs about infestation by parasites (delusional parasitosis).
How widespread is Morgellons disease?
Morgellons disease is a relatively rare condition that most frequently affects middle-aged white women. A cluster of cases occurred in California, which prompted the CDC to conduct a research study to determine if the cases were somehow related. Another study conducted in London reviewed five years of cases, from 2003 to 2008, and found 18 patients with a diagnosis of unexplained dermopathy or Morgellons. Of these, 83 percent were middle-aged women and 69 percent were white.
What do researchers know about Morgellons disease?
A possible link between Morgellons and infection with Borrelia spirochetes has been suggested by one group of researchers. Three in the group are affiliated with the Morgellons Disease Foundation.
In an earlier study, researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that Morgellons disease, which they refer to as an unexplained dermopathy, isn't caused by an infection or parasites. They studied samples of skin, blood, urine and hair.
Further research is needed to determine whether Morgellons is a new disorder and, if so, to develop diagnostic criteria.
A contested diagnosis
Attitudes toward Morgellons disease fall into various categories:
- Some health professionals believe that Morgellons disease is a specific condition that needs to be confirmed by research.
- Some health professionals believe that signs and symptoms of Morgellons disease are caused by another condition, often mental illness.
- Other health professionals don't acknowledge Morgellons disease or are reserving judgment until more is known about the condition.
Some people who suspect they have Morgellons disease claim they've been ignored or dismissed as fakers. In contrast, some doctors say that people who report signs and symptoms of Morgellons disease typically resist other explanations for their condition.
Coping with Morgellons disease
The signs and symptoms linked to Morgellons disease can be distressing. Even though health professionals may disagree about the nature of the condition, you deserve compassionate treatment. To manage your signs and symptoms:
- Establish a caring health care team. Find a doctor who acknowledges your concerns, does a thorough examination and talks through treatment options with you.
- Be patient. Your doctor will likely look for known conditions that point to evidence-based treatments before considering a diagnosis of Morgellons disease.
- Keep an open mind. Consider various causes for your signs and symptoms and discuss your doctor's recommendations for treatment — which may include long-term mental health therapy.
- Seek treatment for other conditions. Get treatment for anxiety, depression or any other condition that affects your thinking, moods or behavior.
Last updated: April 1st, 2015