Morgellons

What Is Morgellons Disease?

Morgellons is a controversial and poorly understood condition in which unusual thread-like fibers appear under the skin. The patient may feel like something is crawling, biting, or stinging all over.

Some medical experts say Morgellons is a physical illness. Others suggest it is a type of psychosis called "delusional parasitosis," in which a person thinks parasites have infected their skin.

Your doctor may call it an "unexplained dermopathy," which means a skin condition that occurs without a known reason. Other medical professionals have dubbed the condition "fiber disease."

Morgellons Disease Symptoms

Unpleasant skin sensations are the main complaint. People with Morgellons may also complain of:

  • Feeling like bugs are crawling all over the skin
  • Burning or stinging sensations under the skin
  • Intense itching
  • Skin sores that appear suddenly and heal slowly
  • Sores that leave very red (hyperpigmented) scars

Some patients report thread-like fibers stuck in the skin.

People with Morgellons sometimes complain of other symptoms, which may include:

Morgellons Disease Risk Factors

In the past, few doctors had heard of Morgellons. But in response to scattered reports, the CDC worked together with several other health care agencies to investigate this condition. Most reports came from California, Texas, and Florida, although patients have been seen in all 50 states.

The CDC study found that Morgellons is most likely to affect middle-aged white women.

Many of the patients in the CDC study showed signs of being obsessively concerned about health problems in general. This is called somatic concerns.

About half of the people in the study had other health problems, including depression and drug abuse.

Controversial Diagnosis

The question of whether Morgellons is a disease or a delusion has prompted debate and new research in recent years.

The CDC states that the condition is not caused by an infection or anything in the environment.

The CDC study also included a lab analysis of skin fibers in Morgellons patients. The analysis showed that these fibers were mostly cotton, such as typically found in clothing or bandages.

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CDC research also revealed that the skin sores seemed to be the result of long-term picking and scratching the skin.

The CDC report goes on to say: "We were not able to conclude, based on this study, whether this unexplained dermopathy represents a new condition, as has been proposed by those who use the term Morgellons, or wider recognition of an existing condition such as delusional parasitosis."

The results of the CDC study have been archived and are no longer updated. The CDC does not plan to do any further research on the matter.

Besides the CDC, other research teams have contributed to the debate on Morgellons.

Previous case studies and research have suggested that Morgellons may be linked to Lyme disease. Some patients with symptoms of Morgellons had tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

But according to Morgellons researchers at Oklahoma State University, there is no evidence to prove this theory. Likewise, there was no evidence of Lyme infection in any of the people in the CDC study.

A 2010 study found a potential link between Morgellons symptoms and an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). More research needs to be done on this finding.

Morgellons also appears similar to a condition seen in cattle called bovine digital dermatitis, which is due to an infection, according to a 2011 study. But no conclusions can be reached from these small studies.

Morgellons Disease Treatment

There is no cure for Morgellons. Treating other medical or psychiatric problems may ease Morgellons symptoms in some patients.

A team of medical researchers at the Mayo Clinic also recommend that patients with these symptoms undergo psychiatric evaluation.

Morgellons Disease Complications

Over time, Morgellons can affect your quality of life. You may have problems keeping up with friends and family the way you used to. You may start to feel isolated or have trouble focusing on work. 

If you continue to scratch and pick at your skin, you could also develop wounds that don’t heal and get infected. You may also end up with scars on your skin.

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Living With Morgellons Disease

Dealing with the physical and emotional symptoms of Morgellons can be stressful. Adopt an action plan to help you manage:

  • Build a team. Find doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals you trust who take your well-being seriously.
  • Be patient. Ruling out other conditions and deciding a way forward after a diagnosis can take time. 
  • Stay open. Be honest with your doctor, and keep an open mind about therapies and options for treatment.
  • Treat your mental health. Seek out treatment for any anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues you may be dealing with alongside your Morgellons. 
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on May 14, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "CDC Study of an Unexplained Dermopathy."

Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences: "Morgellons Disease."

Middelveen, M. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 2011; vol 4: pp 164-177.

Savely, V. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, 2010; vol 3: pp 67-78.

Pearson, M.L. PLoS ONE, Jan. 25, 2012; vol. 7: p e29908.

Ballatyne, C. "What is Morgellons Disease? Is it a physical or psychological condition?" Scientific American, May 13, 2009.

Medscape: “Delusions of Parasitosis Follow-up.” 

Mayo clinic: “Morgellons disease: Managing an unexplained skin condition.”

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