What is Delusional Parasitosis?
Delusional parasitosis is a mental disorder in which the affected person thinks that they are infected with a parasite, whereas they are not. Some also believe that parasites have infested their home, surroundings, and clothes.
Those suffering from delusional parasitosis bring samples of hair, skin, and debris to the doctor to prove the infestation is real.
It is a rare condition and is also known as Ekbom syndrome or delusion of parasitosis. It commonly affects people above 50 years and is rare in women.
Parasites are the organism dependant on the host to survive. They include mites, fleas, worms, and spiders.
Types of Delusional Parasitosis
Delusional parasitosis is of three types:
- Primary Delusional Parasitosis: In this type the person has one delusional belief. It is monosymptomatic.
- Secondary Delusional Parasitosis: In this type, the person along with delusional parasitosis is suffering from other mental health conditions such as dementia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress, or schizophrenia.
- Organic Delusional Parasitosis: This type occurs in people with other health conditions like hypothyroidism, diabetes, heart disease, vitamin-B12 deficiency, menopause, and cocaine addiction.
Causes of Delusional Parasitosis
Delusional parasitosis is common in middle aged or older women. Both men and women of any age or race can suffer from this condition, but is rare in females.
Delusional parasitosis can occur from a chemical imbalance in the brain or from other health conditions.
Its occurrence can also be linked with drug addiction such as cocaine addiction.
It is believed that chemical dopamine in the brain plays a role in psychosis (seeing, hearing, or believing things that are not there).(1) Stress and illness can have an effect on increasing dopamine in the brain.
Symptoms of Delusional Parasitosis
- The major sign of delusional parasitosis is a person insisting that he is suffering from a parasitic infection in the body or on the skin.
- The person also has a belief that the furniture, home, and surroundings are infested with the parasite.
- The person reports a crawling sensation on the skin. It is termed as formication.
- There is also a feeling of:
- Itching and burning
- Crawling or picking under the skin
- Scratching under the skin
- Using chemicals to clean the skin
- Using harmful home remedies such as pesticides
Diagnosis of Delusional Parasitosis
A complete physical examination is done by the doctor on the patient he suspects might be suffering from this condition.
A blood test is done to rule out other causes of skin irritation and itching, crawling, numbness and other symptoms that can be similar to those of delusional parasitosis.
Other conditions that can have similar symptoms like that of Delusional Parasitosis are:
- Thyroid disease
- Kidney disease
- HIV infection
- Nerve disorders
- Parkinson’s disease
- Dermatitis herpetiformis
- Morgellons disease
- Medication reaction
- Louse infection
- Alcohol misuse
- Drug misuse
Treatment for Delusional Parasitosis
The treatment for delusional parasitosis includes treating any underlying condition. If any health condition is triggering this illness, treating them can stop the delusional parasitosis.
Antipsychotic medications are prescribed by the doctor or a psychiatrist. The patients of delusional parasitosis might not believe that he should be prescribed a mental health condition medication rather than medication for parasitic infection and may not wish to take the medicine.
Talking to a trusted doctor and a psychiatrist might prove to help. People with delusional parasitosis cannot be talked with about this situation and a psychiatrist needs to be consulted.
Several visits are needed to treat delusional parasitosis and one type of treatment might not work with every patient.
Delusional parasitosis is a rare condition which if present can be overwhelming for the individual as well as their family and friends.
Treatment with a trusted doctor can help treat delusional parasitosis and provide relief from the stress and discomfort. If the condition is linked with any other medical condition, that should be diagnosed and treated.
It is also important for the individual to cope with the doctor and go ahead with the advised tests and scans, and help find a right treatment plan for the condition.