Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome Response to Oral Corticosteroid Bursts: An Observational Study of Patients in an Academic Community-Based PANS Clinic

J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacol. 2017 Sep;27(7):629-639. doi: 10.1089/cap.2016.0139. Epub 2017 Jul 17.


Background: Sudden-onset severe obsessive-compulsive symptoms and/or severely restrictive food intake with at least two coinciding, similarly debilitating neuropsychiatric symptoms define Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS). When associated with Group A Streptococcus, the syndrome is labeled Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcal infections (PANDAS). An abnormal immune response to infection and subsequent neuroinflammation is postulated to play an etiologic role. Most patients have a relapsing-remitting course. Treatment outcome data for youth with PANS and PANDAS are limited.

Methods: One hundred seventy-eight consecutive patients were seen in the Stanford PANS clinic between September 1, 2012 and January 15, 2016, of whom 98 met PANS or PANDAS criteria, had a single episode of PANS or relapsing/remitting course, and collectively experienced 403 flares. Eighty-five flares were treated with 102 total courses of oral corticosteroids of either short (4-5 days) or long (5 days-8 weeks) duration. Response to treatment was assessed within 14 days of initiating a short burst of corticosteroids and at the end of a long burst based on clinician documentation and patient questionnaires. Data were analyzed by using multilevel random-effects models.

Results: Patients experienced shorter flares when treated with oral corticosteroids (6.4 ± 5.0 weeks vs. 11.4 ± 8.6 weeks) than when not treated (p < 0.001), even after controlling for presumed confounding variables, including age at flare, weeks since onset of PANS illness, sex, antibiotic treatment, prophylactic antibiotics, previous immunomodulatory treatment, maintenance anti-inflammatory therapy, psychiatric medications, and cognitive behavioral therapy (p < 0.01). When corticosteroids were given for the initial PANS episode, flares tended to be shorter (10.3 ± 5.7 weeks) than when not treated (16.5 ± 9.6 weeks) (p = 0.06). This difference was statistically significant after controlling for the relevant confounding variables listed earlier (p < 0.01). Earlier use of corticosteroids was associated with shorter flare durations (p < 0.001). Longer courses of corticosteroids were associated with a more enduring impact on the duration of neuropsychiatric symptom improvement (p = 0.014).

Conclusion: Corticosteroids may be a helpful treatment intervention in patients with new-onset and relapsing/remitting PANS and PANDAS, hastening symptom improvement or resolution. When corticosteroids are given earlier in a disease flare, symptoms improve more quickly and patients achieve clinical remission sooner. Longer courses of corticosteroids may result in more durable remissions. A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial of corticosteroids in PANS is warranted to formally assess treatment efficacy.

Keywords: PANDAS; PANS; corticosteroids; immune modulation; obsessive-compulsive disorder; tics.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Administration, Oral
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / administration & dosage*
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • Autoimmune Diseases / diagnosis
  • Autoimmune Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis
  • Child Behavior Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology
  • Child, Preschool
  • Community Health Services / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / diagnosis
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders / epidemiology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / drug therapy
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Streptococcal Infections / diagnosis
  • Streptococcal Infections / drug therapy*
  • Streptococcal Infections / epidemiology


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones