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Morgellons Disease Overview

Mental Illness or Physical Malady?

Long before they officially become physicians, medical students are sometimes advised to beware the zip-close baggie. When it comes to patient care, it's usually a pretty good rule of thumb: If a patient comes to you for help and brings their symptoms in a baggie -- instead of on their body -- remain skeptical. And get ready to prescribe some anti-psychotic medication.

Unfortunately for patients who believe they have fibers growing out of their skin, this time-tested advice doesn't work in their favor. Those with Morgellons often collect and bring the fibers or black specks that flake off skin to the doctor in a desperate version of show-and-tell. Often, it's presumed the wounds are self-inflicted [source: Savely].

Many of those who report Morgellons-like symptoms to physicians are diagnosed with a psychosomatic illness such as delusional parasitosis [source: Savely]. Simply put, delusional parasitosis means a person believes there's a bug or other material coming out of their skin when in reality there is not [source: Than]. What about the sores and fibers? Although these seem to provide clear-cut evidence, they can be attributed to psychosomatic illness, too. The sores could be self-inflicted; the fibers, admittedly more difficult to explain, could be planted. A disorder like delusional parasitosis may start in the mind, but it can manifest itself with physical symptoms that are not imaginary [source: University of Michigan Health System].

Plus, some anti-psychotic medications do relieve the itching, which seems to confirm a delusional parasitosis diagnosis [source: Savely].

The problem is that if Morgellons is purely a physical malady, it isn't yet recognized by the medical community as a disease. And there aren't any currently known diseases or disorders that exactly match its combined symptoms [source: OSU]. What's more, the purported disease's symptoms overlap those of many other conditions, such as a simple dermatitis or Lyme disease [source: Than]. Sometimes, the physical treatment offered by the medical community is simply the most obvious one: "Just don't scratch it" [source: OSU]. But until researchers get to the root of Morgellons, few are certain how -- or even willing -- to treat it.

Want to learn about some other skin conditions and how to treat them? Check out the links on the next page.