I don’t have schizophrenia so I can’t say that I experienced it, but I was misdiagnosed with it, therefore it’s possible that some of my experiences are similar to those of people with schizophrenia. Unfortunately autoimmune encephalitis is often misdiagnosed as a psychiatric disorder. I spent a lot of time in the Understanding Hashimoto’s Encephalopathy Facebook group and after talking to the women there, the commont story that emerged was that most of them were initially referred to a psychiatrist and treated with antipsychotics/antidepressants/benzodiazepines. I say women because the group members are mostly female, probably over 90%. Autoimmune diseases affect women more often than men and this seems to hold true for autoimmune encephalitis. Schizophrenia on the other hand is more common among males.
I am not a schizophrenia expert, but since my psychiatrist assumed that I had it and I was treated for it, from experience I can say that schizophrenia is usually treated with antipsychotics such as risperidone and olanzapine. Psychotherapy can also be recommended but in addition to the antipsychotics, it would not be enough on its own usually. Autoimmune encephalitis does not improve with antipsychotics. AE is inflammation of the brain that is caused by the immune system and it required immune suppression such as IV steroids, IVIG or plasmapheresis. Many patients have to stay on oral immune suppressants such as prednisone or Cellcept. Some get regular Rituxan infusions. Some patients do take antidepressants or antipsychotics in addition to the immunosuppressant treatment, but the first step should really be suppressing the immune system.
Autoimmune encephalitis often does cause psychiatric symptoms such as intense fear, panic, paranoia, delusional thoughts and depression. All these symptoms could be present in patients with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is also much more common than autoimmune encephalitis, it affects about 1% of population. Since psychosis due to autoimmune reaction is quite rare, it’s reasonable for a psychiatrist to assume schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or psychotic depression. I do think though that if the psychosis is present along with physical symptoms, a blood test for autoimmune conditions should be performed as well. I don’t think schizophrenia is associated with facial swelling, lightheadedness, brain fog, extreme fatigue, etc. Autoimmune encephalitis on the other hand does cause all these physical symptoms and more severe ones as well such as seizures and going into a coma. Also I think that if a patient has tried different antipsychotics for several months and has not responded to them, it’s probably time to consider that there might be a different cause and perform further testing. My psychiatrist for some reason did not consider this. I was not aware of existence of autoimmune diseases, it was my mom who suggested specific blood tests.
Further on, once I started reading more about causes of panic, anxiety, and mood swings, I bought a glucometer and decided to check my blood glucose. My fasting blood sugar was checked previously at the hospital and it was fine, but after performing my own measures, I noticed a problem. After specific meals that contained high glycemic index foods, my blood sugar could stay at higher than 11 mmol/L two hours after eating. Diabetes UK states that blood glucose over 8 mmol / L two hours after a meal is of concern. Later on I spoke about these results to a doctor and she said I may have hyperglycemia. I also noticed feeling psychologically worse when my blood sugar was high. My point here is that if you are not responding to antipsychotics, there are further things to investigate. There is autoimmune testing – high levels of thyroid antibodies could indicate Hashimoto’s encephalitis, there are also other types of autoimmune encephalitis with different antibodies (NMDA receptor encephalitis, for example). TSH, free T3, and free T4 is a standard test to check the thyroid function, hypo/hyper thyroidism can also cause psychosis. Diabetes/hyperglycemia can affect your mood. Usually fating blood sugar is checked, but I would also verify blood glucose levels two hours after a meal with high glycemic carboydrates.