Delusional parasitosis, also known as Ekbom’s Syndrome, refers to a patient who mistakenly believes that his body is infested with parasites. These delusions can include an individual’s erroneous belief that he is inhabited by mites, fleas, lice, worms, bugs, bacteria and other various parasitic organisms. Typically a rare and uncommon syndrome, delusional parasitosis is becoming increasingly more relevant, especially with the rise of methamphetamine drug abuse, nicknamed “meth mites” or “cocaine bugs.”
Delusional parasitosis is quite often a misunderstood disorder and can be difficult to diagnose. It is named “delusional” because the infestation of parasites is not real; it is mistakenly believed to be true by whoever is suffering from the condition. A person with delusional parasitosis will likely go to several doctors hoping to get treatment for this imaginary infestation and may even bring collections of skin particles or dust to show the doctors.
People suffering from delusional parasitosis often become upset and strongly dispute any findings by their doctor that do not corroborate their mistaken belief of infestation. Characteristics of individuals with delusional parasitosis include:
People suffering from delusional parasitosis may describe the parasite infestations as being in various locations, including:
There is no single definitive cause for delusional parasitosis. Researchers believe that there is some correlation to primary brain chemistry. Generally, delusional parasitosis is categorized into three major types based upon the presence of an underlying condition. The three subtypes are:
Primary Psychotic Delusional Parasitosis – the only psychological disturbance is delusional parasitosis. Persons typically act in an otherwise normal fashion and have the ability to reason in a rational way.
Secondary Functional Delusional Parasitosis – there is a concurrent underlying psychiatric disorder such as:
Secondary Organic Delusional Parasitosis – there is a concurrent underlying non-psychiatric medical condition such as:
Delusional parasitosis can occur in people of any age, but instances are higher among middle-aged or elderly women and young men with a history of abuse of methamphetamines or cocaine. There are other risk factors that may increase a person’s chances of suffering from delusional parasitosis, including:
Being diagnosed with delusional parasitosis will likely be a long process. Many sufferers are so insistent that their infestations are real, they will likely go to several doctors before accepting a diagnosis. The diagnosis of delusional parasitosis involves:
The most successful treatment plan for a person suffering from delusional parasitosis will likely include a variety of doctors and specialists. The person’s primary medical doctor should work in conjunction with all other professionals and must be careful about referring the patient to a psychiatrist.
If the patient feels like he is not being taken seriously, he will likely refuse to see a psychiatrist. The patient believes the infestations are real and sending him to a psychiatrist makes it a fabrication. It may be better for the patient to believe the psychiatrist can help rid him of the infestation to ensure initial contact. These professionals may include:
It is essential for the individual with delusional parasitosis to see a psychiatrist in order to confirm a diagnosis and identify or rule out any secondary psychiatric disorders. A patient may be able to live with the mistaken belief of infestation without the use of prescription drugs or psychiatric counseling if that person has been reassured upon close examination that the infestation is under control and engages in regular visits to their primary medical doctor. However, some individuals will require psychiatric intervention consisting of:
An individual with delusional parasitosis needs to receive some kind of treatment. It is important to identify the underlying cause of the problem, be it physical or psychological. The sensations associated with the mistaken belief of infestation are very real to the person who has delusional parasitosis and may cause that person to scratch or wound his skin in an attempt to rid himself of bugs. This excessive scratching can lead to open wounds and sores and later infection.