People with Lyme disease often struggle to get the correct diagnosis. Some individuals have faced an uphill battle for years, fighting to get doctors to take their symptoms seriously. One of the main issues is that Lyme disease can sometimes mimic a variety of other conditions, including fibromyalgia, lupus and arthritis. In fact, if you think you might have Lyme disease but have been diagnosed with another condition, it’s critical that you get a proper diagnosis so that you can begin the proper treatment for Lyme disease as soon as possible. Here are four of the most common misdiagnoses for Lyme disease patients.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease where the immune system eats away at the protective covering of the nerves. With MS, this nerve damage causes a disruption in communication between the brain and the rest of the body. There are a variety of symptoms, such as vision loss, fatigue, pain and impaired coordination. These symptoms and their severity can differ from patient to patient. The condition can be treated with medications and physical therapy to help suppress the immune system and slow the progression of the disease. However, there is no cure for MS.
Because Lyme disease patients can also experience severe fatigue and some cognitive decline, doctors may misdiagnose individuals with MS. Both MS and Lyme disease patients also tend to have issues with their balance and motor functions. Doctors also have their work cut out for them because there isn’t a specific test to see if a patient has MS. Doctors do look for damage to at least two areas of the central nervous system (brain, spinal cord and optic nerves) and try to rule out any other diagnosis. They can also use MRIs and spinal taps to help see if MS is a probable diagnosis. For patients that don’t meet these criteria, it’s possible that Lyme disease is a more accurate diagnosis.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is often confused for Lyme disease because both diagnoses involve symptoms of extreme fatigue. CFS patients have fatigue that can’t be explained by any other medical condition. The fatigue often worsens with physical activity but doesn’t improve even after the person has rested. Experts aren’t sure what causes CFS, also known as systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID) or myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). There’s no single test to perform to confirm a CFS diagnosis. Typically, lots of tests are conducted to rule out any other conditions. Many CFS patients take medication or do specific therapy (cognitive training and physical therapy graded exercise) to help lessen their symptoms.
Like Lyme disease patients, individuals with CFS also experience significant fatigue, unexplained muscle and joint pain, and extreme exhaustion. Depression or low mood can also accompany both Lyme disease and CFS, making it difficult to distinguish which condition is at play. Because there’s no specific test for CFS, you should get tested for Lyme disease first to rule it out.
There are several signs that can indicate a person is suffering from early Alzheimer’s, a brain disease that causes a slow decline in memory, thinking and reasoning. One of the most common signs in early-onset Alzheimer’s is forgetting recently learned information. You might forget an important date or event or ask for the same information over and over. Some people become more reliant on memory aids (like reminder notes) or other people for tasks they used to be able to handle on their own. There’s also usually a marked difference in people’s ability to follow a plan or work with numbers. Simple instructions (like following a favourite recipe or keeping track of finances) might take much longer or become impossible to do. People with early Alzheimer’s can also get confused easily (even in familiar places) and might have less interest in activities they used to enjoy.
Patients with Alzheimer’s, much like Lyme disease, can experience changes in their mood or personality, as well as have difficulty concentrating and completing easy tasks. People also have more lapses in memory in general. There is no one test that can confirm Alzheimer’s, but doctors who suspect you might have it will order a comprehensive exam, including brain imaging scans, to look for signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s. If these tests come back with no indication of decline, it’s possible you might have Lyme disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue (especially the joints), causing painful swelling. Over a long period of time, the inflammation can lead to bone erosion and joint deformity. There’s no definitive cure, but many people manage their arthritis with anti-rheumatoid medications (DMARDS) and physiotherapy. This type of arthritis can be diagnosed through a physical exam with your doctor and with blood tests. These tests look for elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate) or C-reactive protein (CRP), which demonstrates that there is an inflammatory process in the body. Additional tests look for rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies. Some doctors also recommend X-rays or MRIs to confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity of the disease.
Because Lyme disease patients sometimes experience joint pain and stiffness, they can be misdiagnosed as arthritis patients. Similar to arthritis, Lyme disease symptoms can also include joints that are inflamed, painful and swollen. Likewise, more than one joint can be affected. To rule out arthritis, ask your doctor to check your bloodwork to find out if you really have arthritis.
It’s crucial that you’re able to diagnose and treat Lyme disease as quickly as possible if you have it. The BCA-clinic has the ability to run laboratory tests and offer specialised treatment options if you have contracted Lyme disease. Don’t settle for a misdiagnosis by your doctor – head to the BCA-clinic website for help answering any of your questions about Lyme disease.