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Psychosis, schizophrenia may be misdiagnosed

There are many people in Atlanta who apply for Social Security disability insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits each year because of mental illness. One of the more serious of conditions, schizophrenia, can make it impossible for an individual to hold down a job and earn a living for him- or herself. For many of these Georgians, the only option is to file for federal disability benefits. But there is evidence that some of the individuals who have previously been diagnosed with psychosis or schizophrenia may actually have a treatable condition: anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis.

The condition causes the immune system to incorrectly attack the NMDA receptor, a protein that allows neurons to communicate. When the NMDA receptor is being attacked, it causes a person to act as if he or she is schizophrenic.

While there is a very distinct start to the disease, which usually includes a headache or some kind of flu-like symptoms accompanied by a change in behavior, that change in behavior is often interpreted as a psychotic break and the start of schizophrenia. As the condition progresses, it includes seizures and hallucinations, delusions, paranoia and agitation. To many, it is seen as run-of-the-mill schizophrenia.

Instead, the disease is relatively easily treated. Instead of using antipsychotic medicines, a heavy dose of immunosuppressant often returns the individual to normal. These men and women can usually return to work and stop using disability benefits. Scientists must continue to investigate this disease, however, as there is still much that they don't know.

For those people who do need disability benefits, however, it is best to work with an experienced attorney who can help navigate the complex process of filing a successful application with the Social Security Administration.

Source: The Boston Globe, "When the brain is under attack," Daniela J. Lamas, May 27, 2013

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