Doctors diagnose Swissvale woman's mysterious illness



PITTSBURGH - A Swissvale woman is starting to learn more and more about her mysterious illness Channel 11 News reported on earlier this year.

Nikki Elko was experiencing strange symptoms about the same time a group of teenage girls in New York was experiencing uncontrollable tics.

The mysterious illness that caused uncontrollable twitching and shakes was gaining national attention back in February when Elko was experiencing major tics and shaking in her arms.

"Through the day it got worse, and by the end of the day, my arms were really sore," Elko said.

Elko said Wednesday that the shaking practically disappeared after she was diagnosed with PANDAS, which stands for pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infections.

Elko said the diagnosis in March brought a little bit of relief.

"I was really excited at first, and then it became tough trying to find a doctor to treat it," Elko said.

The disorder means antibodies in her system are out of whack and affect parts of her brain.

"The antibodies get confused, and they don't know which is good and which is bad. So they attack everything. It attacks the part of the brain that controls your movement, vocal chords and all of that," Elko said.

A doctor near Philadelphia is treating Elko for her disorder by allowing her to do simple tasks, like pouring a glass of water without spilling it, and even returning to work as a hairdresser.

"There is a small number of doctors that believe in it (PANDAS) and an even smaller number that believe that adults can have it and will treat it," Elko said.

Elko said she wants to make others aware of the disorder because it's so rare and hard to get diagnosed.

"If the patients are younger, they can't speak up for themselves," Elko said.

Officials said there was no link between the girls in New York and Elko's case. It was a rare occurrence that they all acquired it practically overnight.

Doctors said the girls from New York had conversion syndrome, a psychological condition with no organic cause that can happen when a person is subjected to stress or trauma.

With treatment, some of the girls' symptoms have gone away, but doctors are also investigating PANDAS as a possible cause.

Previous Story: Swissvale woman suffering from mysterious illness