Recognizing Lyme Disease and Related Infections

Although we live in a state where Lyme disease is endemic, the diagnosis and treatment of this condition continues to be controversial.  Unfortunately, the political landscape surrounding Lyme disease has steered many doctors away from treating it altogether, putting many patients at risk for developing long-term complications.  It’s not uncommon for me to see patients who have been told that their testing for Lyme disease and other co-infections is negative, so therefore there is no possible way that these infections can be responsible for their symptoms.  This information can be extremely misleading, since the validity of testing is dependent on what stage of the disease they are performed.  Doctors who are well informed about Lyme will typically treat based on clinical criteria (outlined by the CDC), with the argument being that the risk of putting uninfected individuals on antibiotics is not outweighed by the risk of long-term Lyme complications.

Since there is so much variability from one physician to the next, the most important point is for patients to recognize the most common symptoms of Lyme disease and other co-infections, so they can consider seeking out a second opinion if they’ve been told their symptoms are unrelated, yet their health continues to decline.  Symptoms to watch for include the following:

Lyme Disease: Fatigue, headaches, cognitive difficulties, roaming muscle pain that comes and goes, intermittent paresthesias (numbness, tingling).

Babesia: Fever, chills, night sweats, “pressure” headaches, insomnia, “air hunger”, easy bruising.

Ehrlichia: High fevers, low WBC and platelet counts, elevated liver enzymes.

Bartonella: Fatigue, “ice pick” headache, cognitive difficulties, lymph node swelling, pressure behind eyes, seizures, painful feet (especially upon waking), sensitivity to light.

Other key points to consider:

-While known history of a tick bite is helpful, how often will you notice something the size of a poppy seed hanging around?

-Lyme disease can suppress many subsets of your immune system, so recurring viral infections and other signs of immune compromise can be another clue.

-If you do find a tick, don’t throw it away! You should save it, and have the tick tested for Borrelia.

-Exposure history (hiking, wooded areas, occupational hazards, etc.) and previous response to antibiotics (did symptoms improve or worsen) can be useful indicators.

-There are no definitive tests for Lyme disease!

If you’re suspicious of Lyme or related co-infections based on this summary, seek out a physician who has experience with diagnosing and treating these conditions.  Be persistent, and don’t be discouraged by negative test results, particularly if you continue to suffer!

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