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Could Multiple Sclerosis Be Confused For Lyme Disease?

Lyme disease is an insidious disorder that comes in two distinct phases. The first is the acute phase, which often mimics the flu. Symptoms at this point are generalised, and come in the form of fever, muscle aches, headaches, chills and general fatigue. They do not even have to be severe; many patients simply write them off as bout of common illness. If Lyme disease is not caught during the acute stage, it will lie dormant for a time, before re-emerging as chronic Lyme. The chronic manifestation is much harder to treat than the acute one, as the symptoms differ wildly between patients. Compounding this is the fact that Lyme falls in a grey area of legitimation, as many official bodies don’t recognise it. The result of these two factors is a case of sustained misdiagnosis for chronic Lyme. But could Lyme be misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis?

It’s hard to know just how many cases of Lyme disease go misdiagnosed, but it’s roughly estimated to be in the thousands. The CDC posits that there is an average of 300,000 new cases of Lyme per year, many of which are suspected to be misdiagnosed. This is through a combination of Lyme-illiterate doctors and confusing symptoms that often mimic the effects of other chronic diseases. The symptoms are also generalised, lending themselves to many potential diagnoses. Prime among them is multiple sclerosis (MS), a disorder that attacks the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Let’s first take a look at MS and Lyme in turn, before looking at how they’re similar, and ultimately how they differ.

 

BCA-clinic - doctor
Lyme disease symptoms often mimic those of other conditions, including MS.

 

The symptoms of MS can vary depending on the area that’s under attack. We can broadly categorise it as an autoimmune disease, where the body turns on itself with devastating consequences. A person suffering from the disorder can have almost any neurological symptom or sign. Some of the most common complaints are tingling or pins-and-needles in the extremities, numbness, weakness, blurred vision, muscle spasms and movement difficulty. In addition to physical manifestations, the disease can also potentially affect the mental faculties of a patient, leading to depression, unstable moods and brain fog. MS is chronic and degenerative; eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage through deterioration of the nerves.

There is no known cure for the disease, although there are methods that can slow its progression. The cause of MS is also not fully known, although there are a number of identified risk factors. Family history can affect your chances of contracting the disease, as can gender – women are two to three times more likely to suffer from MS. While the condition does not lead to death in and of itself, MS can prove to be hugely debilitating with serious complications involved, like other conditions that attack neuropathways (such as MND/ALS). But could multiple sclerosis be confused for Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is transmitted by ticks, so the cause is totally different to MS. Although we don’t know a whole lot about what triggers MS, we do know that ticks have nothing to do with it. Lyme is an infection, whereas MS is an autoimmune disorder. Interestingly, however, Lyme does become a form of autoimmune disorder if it is left to progress to the chronic form. Over time, the immune system, faced with an infection it just can’t seem to eradicate, goes haywire, resulting in a new batch of symptoms that stem from inflammation. Chronic Lyme symptoms are the result of the body’s own response to a persistent infection, and the inflammation that this causes. Symptoms include general fatigue, muscle aches and pains, facial paralysis, and potential neurological complications if the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria permeate the blood-brain barrier.

These neurological symptoms, together with localised muscle weakness and pain, can make Lyme appear a lot like multiple sclerosis. Indeed, Lyme disease is often called ‘the Great Imitator’, due to its ability to mimic other disorders like MS and throw unwitting doctors off the scent. Education is critical when it comes to diagnosing chronic Lyme, but due to the grey area the disease resides in, it is not always apparent. Unfortunately for patients around the world, fully Lyme-literate doctors are a relative rarity in the medical field. When MS seems like the obvious diagnosis, this is what most doctors reach for. This can cause huge amounts of both mental and physical suffering for patients, not least because they’ve been diagnosed with an incurable condition. On top of that, the complications from the undiagnosed Lyme disease will still continue to wreak havoc on their body.

 

Confusion of MS and Lyme resulting in misdiagnosis is a serious problem, so it’s important to find a Lyme-literate doctor if you think you might have been misdiagnosed.

 

If you suspect you are suffering from Lyme and may have been misdiagnosed, your first course of action should be to get in touch with a Lyme disease specialist and get properly tested. Though they can be few and far between, experts like those at BCA-clinic in Augsburg, Germany, have years of experience with chronic conditions like Lyme, and have the requisite resources to properly ascertain if Lyme is present or not. Because Lyme is such an insidious disorder, it must be ruled out properly to ensure the correct diagnosis. If you are not happy with your diagnosis, and suspect Lyme disease, don’t hesitate to reach out to the experts.